Gophers to test luck in season-opening Vegas tourney

Minnesota will play four games against four teams this weekend.

Drew Claussen

There are still a couple of inches of snow on the ground, but spring has definitely sprung for the Gophers softball team.

Minnesota will open its season this weekend in Las Vegas, Nev., at the Sportco Kick-Off Classic, which is hosted by the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. The Gophers will face DePaul and Texas Tech on Saturday and Louisville and UNLV on Sunday.

Minnesota went 3-1 in the Sportco Kickoff Classic last year, but the competition will be stiffer this year as Louisville is ranked No. 18 in the country and DePaul and Texas Tech are receiving votes in the national poll.

“We’re getting tested right out of the gate,” head coach Jessica Allister said.

The Gophers finished last season with a 31-22 record. It was their second 31-win season under Allister, who enters her third season at the helm.

Allister said the team defied pre-season expectations with its record, but she expected the team to finish better after its fast start.

“I wish it would have ended a little bit differently,” Allister said. “But I think that’s a good thing; I think it shows that we have the talent level we need to compete at a higher level.”

The team’s youth was part of the reason the team struggled in the middle of the season, Allister said. Six freshmen saw regular playing time last season.

“I think they weren’t prepared for the length of a college season,” Allister said. “Now they know.”

As a sophomore, ace Sara Moulton took the next step from her productive freshman year by lowering her earned-run average and winning more games. This season, Allister expects more of the same from the junior.

“The danger sometimes when you’ve been successful is to try to press and have certain expectations,” Allister said. “If she can trust what she has and be Sara Moulton, it’s going to be good enough.”

Another key to the team’s success on the mound will be freshman Nikki Anderson, who Allister said will add depth.

On offense, the team returns two players with a batting average above .300 from last season. Sophomores Tyler Walker (.380) and Kaitlyn Richardson (.338) led the team in 2012 as freshmen.

Like most teams from the northern part of the country, the Gophers haven’t had the luxury of practicing outside this season.

Allister said that’s not an issue, though, because Minnesota can do everything inside the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex that it could outside. The team has also held practices at the Metrodome.

Minnesota’s climate also means the Gophers will be forced to travel a lot early in the season.

Their first home game isn’t until early April, and they won’t play a game in the Midwest until late March. Minnesota will play six events in the South and one series against Florida A&M to open the season.

Allister said the travel won’t wear down her team.

“They’re young,” she said, “they love it.”