Liam James Doyle, Daily File Photo
In 2010, the Gophers softball team was 16-37 and 2-17 in the Big Ten.
Then Jessica Allister took over.
Since the head coach took helm, Minnesota has won more than 30 games each year, including a 49-11 season in 2015 that set a program record in winning percentage.
The Gophers’ first game this season comes on Feb. 12, and the program enters the year with its highest preseason ranking ever at No. 14.
“There’s a long season ahead of us, but what I can say is that I’m really proud of the work we’re putting in,” Allister said. “It’s just a matter of how much better we can get every day, and if we do keep getting better, by the end of the season we’ll be a really good team.”
The Gophers return 15 players to the team this season, with only three freshman.
One of the team’s biggest returners is sophomore second baseman Danielle Parlich, who started all 60 games last year as a rookie. Parlich led the team in batting average at .400 in 2015 and was a First Team All-Big Ten selection.
Senior catcher Taylor LeMay also returns behind the plate after starting 57 games last year. She led the Big Ten with four pickoffs in 2015.
The Gophers also return every member of their pitching staff, which includes senior Nikki Anderson, junior Hannah Evavold, sophomore Kylie Stober and junior ace Sara Groenewegen.
“We didn’t lose anyone, and I think that could really work in our favor,” Groenewegen said. “We know how we work together, and having one season under our belts as a staff will really help. We complement each other well.”
Groenewegen started 39 games as a pitcher last year and completed 28 of those starts. She had an ERA of 1.67 and 379 strikeouts in 234-and-one-third innings pitched, and she was named Big Ten Player of the Year.
Groenewegen was the first Minnesota player to win the award since 1991. She also batted .372 with a .650 slugging average at the plate.
Behind Groenewegen and many of the team’s returning players, the Gophers broke program records in team batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and home runs in 2015.
The team made it to their third consecutive NCAA tournament last year, a school record, which led to Allister’s contract being extended until 2020 in August.
“Coach Allister and her staff have done an unreal job, and they don’t get enough credit,” Groenewegen said. “She came in and entirely flipped the program. The culture has been built from the ground up.”
The Gophers’ season ended in heartbreaking fashion last year, with a 7-6 loss in extra innings to Arizona in the NCAA Regional.
Now the team comes back largely intact for a potential fourth consecutive NCAA run.
“The way last year ended was tough, but it’s nice to see that a lot of the people who stepped up in that last game are all back,” LeMay said. “I’m excited to get going, and I think everyone else is too.”