Pair of teammates adjusting to new positions

Mark Heise

Change can be a good thing.

But when last season’s two leading hitters and defensive keys from the Minnesota softball team made drastic position switches to start the year, the change looked a little risky.

But sophomore Colleen Conway and senior Megan Higginbotham, the only two Gophers to start all 50 games last season, have made their transitions appear seamless.

Higginbotham’s switch from catcher to shortstop was the move that sent Conway, last year’s shortstop, over to second base.

“Megan was a little banged up at the end of last season, so that was part of the motivation for us,” coach Lisa Bernstein said.

And with the emergence of sophomore Shannon Stemper at catcher, Bernstein said the decision to move the athletic senior was an easy one.

Conway’s move from short to second gave the sophomore a similar position to play, but still presented new challenges, including bunt situations and slap hits.

Conway’s quickness has been an asset on the right side of the infield, however, as the sophomore has begun to embrace the role.

“I’ve had a lot of fun with it,” she said. “You can play deeper, get a little dirty and still make the play.”

Communication is important between the two positions, and Higginbotham said she understood the need to have a good relationship with her other middle infielder. Higginbotham had nothing but praise for Conway for helping transition the former catcher into a shortstop.

Another important role of the two middle infielders is to communicate well with the outfielders.

Conway said she felt that both she and Higginbotham have done that well, directing the outfielders to which base to throw to.

“I think our team is very comfortable with where we’re at,” Conway said. “We’ve got great relationships with our outfielders, and we seem to mesh really well together.”

The players seem to have a strong relationship outside of the game as well, doing anything from spending time watching “American Idol” to going to a Twins game or family dinners.

“We’re all kind of like sisters,” Higginbotham said. “Everybody seems to get along well, and working with Colleen has been a pretty cool experience. I couldn’t ask for a better partner to be working with.”

And the two have an extra experience in common, as both worked under their parents in high school. Conway was a jack of all trades, filling out menus, making sandwiches and decorating cakes at her parents’ shop, while Higginbotham bussed tables and was a waitress under her father.

“He was a pretty hard critic,” Higginbotham said of her dad. “I had to bust my tail or it wasn’t acceptable.”

One longstanding strategy says to be successful the center of the defense – the catcher, pitcher, shortstop, second baseman and centerfielder – must be solid.

Between Higginbotham’s athleticism and strong arm and Conway’s range and soft hands, Minnesota’s middle infield has begun to look like a strength, meaning the Gophers have taken steps toward that goal.