Road-weary Minnesota to play four more away from home

In total, Minnesota will play 43 consecutive games on the road.

Emily Wickstrom

For much of the season, Minnesota’s softball team doesn’t need a home stadium.

The Gophers, more than accustomed to playing on the road, are nearing the end of a streak in which they will play 43-consecutive away games.

In a season that started Feb. 10, Minnesota (11-18, 0-4 Big Ten) will not play a home game at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium until April 21 when it will play against Illinois.

That amounts to nine-straight weekends, with the exception of spring break, of traveling Thursday, playing four to five games Friday through Sunday and returning to Minneapolis late Sunday night, only to do it all over again the next week.

The Gophers will continue that schedule this weekend when they play at Iowa on Friday and Saturday and then finish their four-game weekend road slate with a doubleheader Sunday against Wisconsin.

“It’s draining to be here (only) three days of the week,” junior catcher Megan Higginbotham said. “You come back Sunday night and leave again on Thursday. We definitely have to focus on keeping our academics up.”

Much of the scheduling has to do with Minnesota’s unpredictable weather, but this season’s Big Ten scheduling has the Gophers on the road for the first three weeks.

“It’s something that they try not to do,” Minnesota co-coach Lisa Bernstein said. “I don’t think it’s done intentionally, it is what it is. We’re just kind of going with the flow.”

Bernstein said every Gophers recruit knows coming in they will have to get used to frequent traveling.

“You walk into this program knowing that you can’t play here until the end of April,” Higginbotham said. “That’s just kind of the mind-set you have.”

But junior Rene Konderik said it does get frustrating at times, especially with road trips to North Carolina and Kansas where the weather may not be much better than in Minnesota.

“Our whole preseason we didn’t get good weather anywhere,” Konderik said.

“We probably only finished one full tournament game-wise, and we come back here and it’s 45 degrees outside and we’re like, ‘Why can’t we play on our own field?’ “

Bernstein said that playing so many road games might prove to be beneficial for the Gophers because away games sometimes can unite teams more than home games.

“A lot of times when you go on the road you get to have different kinds of bonding experiences than if you’re playing at home a lot,” she said.

Even with Minnesota’s struggles – the Gophers are on a 3-10 slide – Bernstein said the team has its share of positives.

“Good things will happen,” Bernstein said. “I can’t predict exactly when it will all come together, but just because of their work ethic, their attitudes and their personalities, it will for this group of kids.”

And eventually, the Gophers know they will have a home game.

“It’s a challenge,” Bernstein said. “But we have to work to overcome it and not let it get us too crazy.”