From the turf to the grass; Gophers heading to Florida

For the Minnesota womenâÄôs softball team, fielding ground balls on an indoor surface and catching pop-flies caroming off the ceiling just isnâÄôt the same as playing on real dirt with a sunny blue sky. But the Gophers have still made due this winter during their practice times in the Cook Field House and Bierman Football Complex. Minnesota will see if its hard work and patience over the cold winter is going pay off this weekend, as the team competes in the Louisville Slugger Tournament in sunny Tampa, Fla. The Gophers will play two games on Friday and Saturday at the University of South Florida, followed by one game on Sunday morning before flying back to the reality of more practice in the cold Minnesota winter. âÄúItâÄôs always nice to be outside, but all of our kids knew when they got recruited that they would be practicing the majority of the winter inside,âÄù Gophers co-head coach Lisa Bernstein said. âÄúWeâÄôre just excited to go and prove how much of our hard work weâÄôve been doing in the gyms and the field house for the last three or four months has come together.âÄù Whether itâÄôs hitting in the batting cages, working on infield fundamentals on the rubbery surface in the Cook Field House or fielding fly balls and scrimmaging in the football facility, Bernstein and the Gophers have done everything they can to simulate a real field situation. âÄúOn the days when we practice in the football building, we can do some more outfield work and scrimmages, but the roof comes into play, so we donâÄôt get true fly balls or anything in the sun or wind dust,âÄù Bernstein said. âÄúWeâÄôve got to be creative to make it as real as we can.âÄù While Minnesota has practiced and scrimmaged entirely inside this winter, the other five teams in this weekendâÄôs tournament have spent more practice time outdoors âÄî something that is invaluable for a sport like softball. Florida Gulf Coast, North Florida, Illinois State, South Florida and UNC-Greensboro all have a distinct advantage over Minnesota because of their location. âÄúTheir outfield and infield get to work on more pop-flies and communication âÄî ones that wonâÄôt hit a roof,âÄù Bernstein said. âÄúThey have more experience with dirt hops and how the ball bounces on the wet grass in the outfield. Our pitchers have been pitching off turf as well, so it will be nice to get them on dirt. ItâÄôs a different game outside.âÄù While the Gophers may be at a disadvantage in their practice style, Bernstein still has high hopes for the teamâÄôs first tournament of 2009. âÄúItâÄôs a tough tournament with some tough teams, but we hope to come out of there as close to 5-0 as we can,âÄù she said.