Gophers begin with high expectations

Minnesota will begin the season as the No. 15 team in the country.

Matt Greenstein

Minnesota’s historic season came to an abrupt halt at the hands of No. 1 Oregon last May.

The Gophers will begin their 2015 season this weekend No. 15 in the national poll, and their focus is on making it to the Women’s College World Series — something the program has never accomplished before.

“I think we’re really proud of what we did last season, but we’re also recognizing that was last season and this is this season,” senior third baseman Kaitlyn Richardson said.

The Gophers have high expectations, both internally and externally, after last season’s success.

“It’s a completely new team, and I think new people are going to step up. I don’t think we’re trying to ‘one-up’ anything. We just have new goals,” Richardson said.

Richardson, the Gophers’ leader in batting average and runs batted in last season, was one of two Gophers named to the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Award Top-50 Watch List.

The other was sophomore pitcher Sara Groenewegen, the team’s ace.

Last year, she was the Big Ten’s Pitcher of the Year and Freshman of the Year.

Head coach Jessica Allister  brought in six freshmen this year. She said they’ve made a seamless transition to college softball.

“They fit in great … They’re working their tails off,” Allister said.

The Gophers graduated three seniors last season including their ace, Sara Moulton.

“This is a new team, and we’re always going to be seen as the underdog, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing,” Groenewegen said. “Obviously, last year was awesome, but we need to be working diligently towards this upcoming season.”

As Minnesota takes the season on as the self-presumed underdogs, Groenewegen said the team needs to match Allister’s hard-working attitude and put in the work needed to succeed at a high level.

“Coach says it all the time: ‘[We] can’t have any expectations. [We] just have to go out there and compete.’ Our whole team is based off of hard work, it’s not just one individual,” Groenewegen said. “We all reflect off of each other, and I feel like we’ve done a good job of doing that.”

The Gophers will begin competition at the Sportco Kick Off Classic this weekend, and Groenewegen said the team is anxious to get back on the field.

“It’s been a long time since most of us have seen the dirt,” Groenewegen said. “Getting out there is what we live for.”