U softball team gets denied NCAA birth

Michael Rand

A frustrating season for the Gophers softball team officially ended Sunday night when the squad learned it didn’t receive a bid to the 32-team NCAA tournament.
Minnesota (37-19, 10-13 in the Big Ten) failed to qualify for the conference tournament following a sixth place finish in the conference. Players and coaches hoped the team’s strong overall record and competitiveness against some of the nation’s top teams would help the Gophers sneak into regional tournament field.
But Minnesota, which went 44-18 last season and earned a bid to the NCAAs in Louisiana, failed to earn a second straight trip. Big Ten teams that made the field were Iowa, Michigan and Michigan State.
“I thought we had a slight chance going in,” Gophers coach Lisa Bernstein-O’Brien said. “I’m not totally shocked.”
The past week has been a waiting process for the Gophers. The team couldn’t practice because it didn’t qualify for the Big Ten tournament. But at the same time, there was a possibility it could qualify for regionals.
Although last week created an uncomfortable in-between feeling for some players, Bernstein-O’Brien said she thought it helped in the long run.
“Having the week off gave us a chance to come to terms with a few things,” she said.
The Gophers, who returned several key hitters and all three of their starting pitchers from last season, expected to contend for a Big Ten title after finishing second in the conference a year ago.
A three-week hitting slump at the end of the season, which resulted in a 5-10 record in the final 15 Big Ten games, was the main reason the team didn’t realize that goal. The Gophers were also just 2-7 in one run games in the conference.
“This is not how I thought the season would end,” Bernstein-O’Brien said. “It’s not how I wanted it to end for this group of people.”
The 32 teams in the regional field will compete at various regional sites this weekend, and then regional winners will play at the College World Series the weekend after in Oklahoma City.
Notes: Gophers senior outfielder Rachel Nelson was named to the University Division GTE/CoSIDA Academic All-District V team. Nelson, who has a 3.24 grade point average in kinesiology and adapted physical sciences, ranks fifth all-time in NCAA history with 313 hits in her career.