Softball’s Nygren

by Mark Heller

When Gophers softball freshman Jordanne Nygren was asked why her nickname was “Xena,” it was assumed her response would be something about how she was a die-hard fan of the scantily-clad warrior of syndicated television fame.
Instead, Nygren stopped her hitting practice, walked into the dugout and pulled a miniature NASCAR model car out of her softball bag.
“Coach B (co-coach Lisa Bernstein) picked NASCAR as our theme this year,” Nygren said. “It’s NASCAR Car number 14 (Nygren’s jersey number).” On the hood of the car is a picture of Xena.
“I’ve never seen the show,” she said.
When Nygren arrived in Minnesota from Farmington, N.M. — also the hometown of sophomore Rayny Camacho and freshman Heather Brown — she was not expected to immediately step into the cleanup spot and hit a team-high 12 home runs with 46 RBIs heading into today’s doubleheader at Wisconsin.
Impressed with her ability to drive the ball and show some patience at the plate, Bernstein started hitting Nygren at No. 4 back in October.
“Yeah, I had some concerns about the cleanup spot this year,” Bernstein said. “But you have new concerns every year, and we knew we could hit.”
Neither Bernstein nor Nygren, however, expected these kind of results so quickly.
Nygren credits her power hitting to working with Bernstein in the fall and winter to adopt a more upright stance and keeping her hands up. The changes allow her to see the ball better and maintain a level swing plane.
“Power has always been with me,” Nygren said, “but not like this. I didn’t hit home runs (in high school). I’d get on base and drive in runs.”
“The 12 home runs have been a surprise,” Bernstein said. “But her hitting is no surprise. She has great hands, hits to all fields and will take a walk.”
Nygren has walked a team-high 23 times and boasts a .687 slugging percentage.
With All-American shortstop Shannon Beeler graduating at the end of the season, Bernstein is initially looking for Nygren to move into the third spot next year.
But for now, Beeler could be the biggest beneficiary of Nygren’s gaudy numbers. Nygren’s performance in the cleanup spot should allow Beeler to see better pitches.
But that hasn’t been the case.
“That’s never affected me in the past,” Beeler said of her spot in the batting order. “I guess I’ve never thought about it too much. It’s not much different. They’re the same pitches I saw last year, and I didn’t get too many walks last year, so it’s not like it’s affected me a great deal.
“But (Nygren) has been great and she’s only a freshman,” Beeler added. She’s got All-American potential someday.”
Bernstein played down the notion of Nygren as a possible All-American candidate. But with the way things have gone for the rookie this season, it certainly isn’t out of the question. She is becoming a warrior princess at the plate.
“All-Americans generally come to teams that are doing well,” Bernstein said, referring to Minnesota’s inconsistent play this year. “But she certainly is doing her part.”