Klaviter gets starting nod

Jeff Sherry

This has been a year of new experiences for the Minnesota softball team: national rankings, a Big Ten title run, and now, an NCAA regional berth.
But for Gophers pitcher Steph Klaviter, this year’s success isn’t entirely new. In fact, she may be the one Gopher who came into this season most prepared for success — despite her freshman status.
“I came in here used to winning,” said Klaviter, who went 74-3 while leading New Ulm Cathedral High School to three consecutive Minnesota softball titles. “I expected us to do this well this season. When I look at everything we’ve done, it’s exactly what I saw and wanted coming in.”
Klaviter’s team goals aren’t the only ones that have been achieved in the last two weeks. One of her personal goals was clinched Monday when Gophers coach Lisa Bernstein announced Klaviter would start Minnesota’s NCAA regional opener against Nebraska on Friday.
After spending most of the season as Minnesota’s second pitching option, Klaviter has established herself as the Gophers’ No. 1 gun.
“We really have looked to Steph,” Bernstein said. “She is our horse on the mound. She’s thrown a lot of innings for us, and she’s very, very calm and cool. She’s taking control of the plate a little more right now and getting some attitude about her. She’s announced her presence with authority.”
Klaviter’s performance this season more or less demanded top dog consideration from Bernstein. The 6-foot-3 right-hander held a 23-1 record entering the final week of the regular season and was still relegated to the role of second-game starter. Junior strikeout artist Jennifer Johnson usually got the nod in series openers.
But a switch began after Minnesota’s doubleheader at Iowa on May 1. After watching her team get shut out, 6-0 in the opener, Klaviter helped the Gophers earn a split by keying a 6-2 win in the nightcap.
She was rewarded with two starts in the team’s critical three-game series against Michigan on May 4-5. Despite losing both of those games, Klaviter started in three of Minnesota’s four games at last weekend’s conference tournament.
Klaviter will enter Friday’s start with a team-leading 164.3 innings pitched, 25-4 record and a 1.87 ERA. The second-team All-Big Ten selection knows there’s still room for improvement.
“It feels great to have the first game, but it’s not like I’d be upset if I didn’t,” Klaviter said. “I realize I’ve still got a lot to learn. I learned a lot in my last game, and I think I’ll keep learning throughout my years here.”
Notes: Klaviter was named to the second-team All-Mideast Region softball team Wednesday. Gophers outfielders Rachel Nelson and Amber Hegland were named to the first team.