Allister’s first recruiting class shines

Kaitlyn Richardson and Tyler Walker have led the charge for the junior class.

Minnesota infielder Tyler Walker attempts to steal a base against Wisconsin on April 7, 2013, at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium.

Daily File Photo; Jaak Jensen

Minnesota infielder Tyler Walker attempts to steal a base against Wisconsin on April 7, 2013, at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium.

Jared Christensen

When head coach Jessica Allister arrived on campus four years ago, she inherited a program which hadn’t placed in the top four of the Big Ten in more than a decade.

Now, four years later, the Gophers softball team is ranked 13th in the nation, has won 33 of its first 41 games and is in line to finish with the best regular season in program history.

And much of that success stems from Allister’s first recruiting class, which entered its junior season this year.

That class is led by All-Big Ten infielders Kaitlyn Richardson and Tyler Walker.

Richardson, whose lofty .444 batting average is the highest on the team and third-highest in the conference, has paced the team at the plate for much of her career. Walker, whose .395 average is sixth best in the Big Ten, hasn’t been far behind in terms of offensive production.

Allister said the coaching staff had to quickly throw together a recruiting class after they arrived on campus and said they were fortunate it’s worked out.

“We put together a class of seven players in just two months,” she said. “It was absolutely crazy.”

A unique quality of that class is that Walker and Richardson are both from the West Coast — the same part of the country that Allister calls home.

Allister, a graduate of Stanford and former assistant coach at Oregon, said her West Coast ties helped her with recruiting Richardson.

“There were a couple coaches with whom I have very good relationships who came to me and said, ‘We can’t believe this girl is still available. You have to come take a look,’” she said.

Allister followed that bit of advice, and since then, Richardson has developed into one of the best players in the country.

Walker, on the other hand, had already committed to the Gophers before Allister was in charge. She said Allister’s vision for the program reaffirmed her decision to come to the Twin Cities.

“When Coach Allister came along with the plans she had for the program, I knew for sure, 100 percent, there was no place I’d
rather play.”

That vision has helped the softball program grow, but sophomore catcher Taylor LeMay said the success isn’t all about recruiting — she credits Allister with being able to develop quality talent, too.

“When I got to [Minnesota], I was very raw,” she said. “I had never really had great coaching before, but Coach Allister has shaped me into a much better player than I was before.”

A further testament to Allister’s player development skills is in the way the current junior class has developed. Still, both Richardson and Walker found success as freshmen ­– evidence of the talent Allister has brought to the program.

Tonight, the Gophers will showcase that talent in a doubleheader against North Dakota at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium.

It’ll be a quick turnaround after that before conference play resumes with a three-game home series against Penn State this weekend.