Marten’s departure leaves Gophers with a young team ready to tackle a bumpy road

Senior pitcher Lyn Peyer has a big role in replacing Piper Marten this season.

by Chris Lempesis

Both positives and negatives are in plenty supply when a team’s roster is on the young side.

Such is the case with Minnesota’s softball team this season.

With a 21-player roster that includes 13 underclassmen, the Gophers have experienced their ups and downs and are sitting at 15-13. They finished last season at 33-23 overall and 10-10 in the Big Ten, falling just shy of reaching their third-straight NCAA Tournament.

“We’ve had moments of brilliance and moments where we’ve got to work to keep things together,” co-coach Lisa Bernstein said before the team went 5-4 on a West Coast swing to Las Vegas and Sacramento, Calif.

The 2005 edition is a team searching for growth anywhere it can find it.

“Our big thing with the season is to just learn from each mistake or each improvement so that we can continue to grow and have a good end to our season,” senior pitcher Lyn Peyer said.

Peyer, one of Minnesota’s four seniors, will have to play a big role while the youngsters go through the learning process. She is taking over the No. 1 spot in the Gophers’ rotation – a position previously held by four-year standout Piper Marten.

Peyer is 8-7 with a 1.83 ERA in 99.1 innings.

Marten was 21-13 with a 0.99 ERA, striking out 261 batters in 219.2 innings last season. She finished her career with a record of 88-51 and in 14th place on the NCAA’s Division I career strikeout list with 1,122.

Despite the tough-to-follow example of her predecessor, Peyer said she doesn’t really feel much pressure. She said the play of the defense behind her will help her succeed.

Bernstein said she has been pleased with Peyer, but added that more is still expected.

“I want to see her work on her mental toughness,” she said. “I want her to work on her consistency. She’s got two months left in her career, and it’d be great for her to put a bow on it towards April and May.”

Minnesota’s offense will also have to shoulder some of the load caused by Marten’s departure. The team finished second to last in the Big Ten in runs scored last season, averaging 2.87 runs per game.

And again, Minnesota will look to one of its few seniors to lead the way.

Bernstein said the Gophers offense will be built around speed – namely, leadoff hitter Stephanie Sward.

Bernstein called the senior “the catalyst” for the offense and said she is as fast as ever this season.

Sward agreed, attributing the extra burst to a change in her training.

“I’ve really stopped lifting weights and started to do more cardio to get my legs in shape instead of bulking them up,” Sward said.

The change is paying off, as Sward has already stolen 17 bases this season. She is well on her way to topping her total of 24 from last season, which ranked second in the Big Ten. She is also batting a team-high .340.

Speed will key Minnesota’s offense. How quickly the Gophers’ underclassmen get their feet under them will determine how many more pluses and minuses will occur the rest of the way.