Gophers bid adieu to 5th-year senior Carls

The outfielder will leave behind her strong work ethic for a young team.

The descriptions âÄúgrandmaâÄù and âÄúwise old owlâÄù may not seem like praise for a softball player. But they are used with affection by teammates and coaches of Gophers fifth-year senior outfielder Heidi Carls, who has steadily grown in her time at Minnesota and will leave a positive attitude and work ethic with a young team as it builds on what has been a tough season. âÄúSheâÄôs a worker. IâÄôd love a team full of Heidi Carls,âÄù co-head coach Lisa Bernstein said. âÄúShe doesnâÄôt settle; she doesnâÄôt take anything from anybody. She holds them accountable, and she holds herself accountable. SheâÄôs a class act.âÄù A native of Villard, Minn ., Carls came to Minnesota as a walk-on player after graduating from Minnewaska Area High School in 2005. She took a redshirt season in 2006 because of shoulder surgery, but she also had the challenge of switching to the outfield from catcher âÄî a position she had played since sixth grade. âÄúI didnâÄôt know angles; I didnâÄôt know any of the footwork,âÄù said Carls, who added, of the transition from high school to college softball, âÄúItâÄôs like learning the game almost all over again.âÄù Carls said it took until the end of her sophomore (third) year with the program for things to click. Bernstein said Carls succeeded because she paid attention to detail in observing other outfielders while she was on the bench for most of three seasons. âÄúShe just kind of kept learning the game and watching,âÄù Bernstein said. âÄúWhen she was given her opportunity, she ran with it.âÄù As someone who worked to become an everyday player the last two seasons, Carls has been a mentor to her younger teammates. Freshman Alex Davis, who had been a catcher, like Carls, but started the season at third base and has started at shortstop the past nine games, said she appreciates the senior talking behind her in left field. âÄúHeidi kind of is like a grandma,âÄù Davis said. âÄúEven if I have a question about something, she automatically knows.âÄù Carls has been a resource and motivator for a starting lineup that often includes a combined six freshmen and sophomores. âÄúShe knows when to be the wise old owl, and she knows when to kick them in the butt,âÄù Bernstein said. The Gophers (15-33, 1-13 Big Ten) have struggled as the Big TenâÄôs worst offense this season and are currently on a program-record 13-game losing streak, but Carls has been through losing before. During CarlsâÄô redshirt season, Minnesota had its fewest wins (17) since 1982 and finished 1-17 in Big Ten play. Carls said one of the first things she told the freshmen was that they will have to learn from the mistakes they are bound to make. âÄúI know itâÄôs hard, but itâÄôs a learning year,âÄù Carls said. âÄúWhen [the freshmen and sophomores] are upperclassmen, theyâÄôre going to be dangerous softball players.âÄù Her own career supports that optimism. After starting 25 total games as a freshman and sophomore, Carls has started all but two games since the start of the 2009 campaign. Entering the final six games this season, CarlsâÄô career-best 21 RBIs and .282 batting average rank first and second, respectively, on the team. She has also the fewest errors (two) by any player who has started at least 25 games this season. Junior first baseman Malisa Barnes, who has been in the starting lineup since 2008, said Carls has shown younger players the path to success. âÄúEverything about Heidi Carls is positive. She has a hard work ethic,âÄù Barnes said. âÄúShe learned to become good âĦ and good things happen to those who wait for it. SheâÄôs a great example to follow.âÄù Now in her final two years of eligibility, Barnes can sympathize a little with Carls, who will finish her career helping to build for the future of the Minnesota program. âÄúItâÄôs hard to go through these growing pains with younger girls, but if I was in that situation [as a younger player], IâÄôd expect the same,âÄù said Barnes, who was teammates with Carls on the 2008 team that reached the Big Ten tournament semifinals. Carls said she is proud of her work and what she learned from teammates and coaches, including Bernstein, who has a saying that Carls said she will take with her beyond Minnesota softball. âÄúYou get what you give, and thatâÄôs something that IâÄôll bring to the rest of my life,âÄù Carls said.