After lengthy road trip, Minnesota softball returns for home opener

The Gophers spent every weekend away from the Twin Cities since February.

Dani Wagner rounds a base at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium on April 23, 2015.

Niti Gupta, Daily File Photo

Dani Wagner rounds a base at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium on April 23, 2015.

Drew Cove

The Gophers are back in town.

Minnesota heads into its second Big Ten series of the season, this time against Illinois. The team will find itself not traveling to play for the first time this season. The Gophers have their home opener at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium Friday after their season started in early February.

“It’s always exciting to come back home,” head coach Jamie Trachsel said. “We’re excited to be able to host this weekend and play Illinois.”

The team played 31 consecutive games on the road while leaving the Twin Cities every weekend since Feb. 9. 

Late winter and early spring weather in Minnesota is not conducive to outdoor softball. With the snowy conditions and cold weather, the Gophers have found ways to play in more forgiving locales.

The team spent time playing games in places such as Florida, Nevada, California and Arizona throughout the first part of the season. With that time elsewhere, student-athletes on the team have to do homework while traveling. That work doesn’t include the preparation needed to be done on the field, when players need to leave practice to go to class.

“[The coaches] work with us pretty well when we need to leave practice,” centerfielder Dani Wagner said. “Luckily, this semester, I don’t have to leave as much as normal, but being on the road you actually have a lot of time to do homework and stuff, so it’s not as big of an issue as you might think.”

Minnesota traveled every Thursday for competition and stayed until Sunday to play a game. That leaves just Monday through Wednesday to go to class and prepare for the next opponent.

Wagner said she used to miss a lot of class on Fridays, but over her four years on the team — which included absences from lectures — professors are understanding and classmates are helpful, too. 

Wagner studies food science and nutrition, while teammate Katelyn Kemmetmueller is the only nursing major on the team. 

Kemmetmueller said her typical week includes the team’s off day on Monday, followed by practice on Tuesday and Wednesday. She usually has to miss practice time throughout the week. She tries to do some individual work before the team leaves on Thursday.

“It gets hard sometimes when you have busier weeks,” Kemmetmueller said. “It’s learning how to fit it in and learning that I either have to study on the road or I’m going to have to be crammed and stressed out on Monday [or] Tuesday.”

Players have said they just get used to the schedule and the routine.

Minnesota now is back for one home series before it goes on the road again for two more Big Ten series, but Trachsel knows the team can handle the time away.

“You don’t know what you don’t know, and they actually don’t know any different,” Trachsel said. “They’ve always had to be on the road. It’s actually them being really responsible and taking care of their stuff ahead of time.”