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Coach Ritter’s recruiting philosophy is about more than softball

Under Ritter, the Gophers recruit across the entire country, looking for the best talent to fit their softball family.
Image by University of Minnesota Athletics (courtesy)
Softball coach Piper Ritter at a softball practice.

The family-oriented approach by Gophers softball’s coaching staff has drawn talent from across the country to play in Minneapolis.

Head coach Piper Ritter, having worked under Jessica Allister and Jamie Trachsel, learned the framework of a championship-contending team and how to get her players to buy in.

 The Gophers named the longtime pitching coach the eighth head coach in program history in May 2020. Ritter’s vast understanding of the team and program through her time as the pitching coach helped her lay the groundwork for Minnesota’s future.

No stranger to the postseason

The Gophers have a profound streak of 10 consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament, including three under Ritter.

To keep the streak alive, Ritter continued to build upon a program with a high standard through recruitment, transfers and in-house development.

Ritter utilized the transfer portal to add pitcher Bri Enter and catcher Taylor Krapf to the team last season while filling the remaining gaps with impactful freshmen like shortstop Jess Oakland and outfielder Breezy Burnett.

In the portal, there are hundreds of players each year in the new era of college sports. Ritter said the coaching staff looks for players who have had success at the collegiate level in the transfer portal.

“The transfer portal, they had to have done something at this level, doesn’t matter hitting or pitching,” Ritter said.

Ritter said recruiting through the portal is a need-based system where the coaching staff identifies areas to improve. Instead of recruiting the best available players, Minnesota targets specific positions to add depth to the squad.

One position where Ritter made an effective addition through the portal was behind the plate. Sara Kinch, the team’s starting catcher in 2022, hit the transfer portal after her sophomore season, leaving Minnesota without a catcher.

Ritter turned to Krapf, a sophomore from Duke who only started three games as a freshman. However, the talent never left the No. 18 ranked prospect in the country. 

In Krapf’s first season with the Gophers, she posted team-highs in three statistical categories: batting average (.342), home runs (14) and RBIs (48).

On top of that, Krapf caught for last season’s Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, Autumn Pease.

Reflecting on her decision to commit to the Gophers, Krapf said attending a practice helped her decide Minnesota was the right fit.

“I was on my visit and I saw the way the coaches interacted with the girls,” Krapf said. “They were supportive but challenging in the practices. I really liked that aspect and I was like, ‘I could see myself playing here.'”

A map of the committed players to Minnesota under Piper Ritter. Including 15 states and 28 different players since being named head coach in 2020 (Image by Andrew Cornelius)

A national brand

It is no secret that Ritter loves to recruit nationwide. In her three and a half years as head coach, she has brought in 28 players from 15 different states.

Ritter has turned California, colored in yellow, into a hotbed for future Gophers. Oakland and third baseman Kayla Chavez, both recruited in 2023, are two notable prospects to come out of California.

In her freshman season, Oakland started all 57 games and was named to the All-Big Ten First Team. Oakland said Ritter’s ability to recruit across the nation speaks to the program and the coaching staff.

“I think that’s unbelievable and I just think it’s crazy that she’s able to pull kids from all over the country,” Oakland said. “I think it’s a nod to the coaching staff and how they are able to get these kids and bring them away from their home and make Minnesota their new home.”

Feeling at home in Minnesota is a concept players commonly share due to the culture, according to Oakland and Chavez. 

Chavez joined Oakland on the All-Big Ten First Team last season, leading Minnesota with 69 hits in her 57 starts.

Talent and awards are not the only things the pair have in common. Chavez and Oakland form a partnership on the left side of the infield and have grown close on and off the field.

“We’ve got a lot closer here on campus, and we’re so far away from home, we kind of confide in each other,” Chavez said about Oakland. “We got really close throughout the semester by hanging out not just during practice but off the field, which has made us even closer.” 

The family aspect of the team’s culture trickles down from the staff to the players, Chavez and Oakland said, and fosters relationships off the field.

The Gophers welcomed two new additions through the transfer portal this offseason: outfielder Morgan DeBord and catcher Cassie Lindmark. Both players come in as graduate transfers, having played four seasons of college softball prior.

Chavez said the two will be important to the team’s success this season and will bring a veteran presence to the squad.

“They can be very impactful, especially with both offensively and defensively,” Chavez said. “We’re going to have a whole new outfield this year, so Morgan coming in will be great.”

Road warriors

 Minnesota is coming off a 38-18 record, finishing 17-6 in the Big Ten and generally exceeding expectations. However, like last season, the Gophers have their work cut out to start the year.

 The first 37 games of the Minnesota season, which started Feb. 9, will be on the road. The Gophers will not play at home until April 5 when they host Ohio State.

Oakland said the road trip is going to be hard, but there is a silver lining as Minnesota will play in California. 

“That can be hard, being on the road for like nine straight weeks,” Oakland said. “I’m also excited because we get to go to new places and California, both the Carolinas and Florida.”

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