The Gophers softball team spent plenty of time celebrating its historic season last spring. Upon returning to the Twin Cities from its first-ever World Series appearance, the team attended countless events and made a number of appearances.
Achievements like that are meant to be enjoyed, and the Gophers certainly did that.
But they’ve since moved on. Heading into their opening weekend of the 2020 season, the Gophers are looking forward. Minnesota, 46-14 in 2019, plays five games in three days in Clearwater, Fla., starting with two wins Friday over Missouri State (1-0) and North Carolina State (13-7).
“We’re not looking at last year, even though it was really awesome where we got,” senior second baseman MaKenna Partain said. “We’re just really excited to see what this team can bring for this year.”
Gophers coach Jamie Trachsel is focused on this team not trying to recreate last year’s magic, but to embrace the standards that last year’s success set for this year’s squad.
“We’re embracing the expectations that come with being at the top and being a national brand,” Trachsel said. “We’re excited for the opportunity, and we’re embracing the challenge of it.”
The success of last season did create a form of momentum for this program, and it seems as though the Gophers are still riding that wave. Gophers pitching ace Amber Fiser said players couldn’t wait to get back on the same field last fall where it sealed the program’s first Super Regional title. There’s still a buzz surrounding the program.
Minnesota is ranked in the top 10 of about every poll, coming in as high as sixth by Softball America and FloSoftball. Partain said the Gophers will have a target on their backs this season. They welcome that. She said the pressure helps Minnesota perform.
Still, even with the rankings, Trachsel said the Gophers will always be that team from the north that others around the country don’t believe is good enough or will be able to repeat previous successes.
“We aren’t satisfied for where we’re at,” Fiser said. “We always find ways to get better, and we kind of go in every weekend knowing that no matter what the rankings say, we’re still the underdogs. We always have that mentality, and we just look at one game, one pitch, one inning, everything one at a time.”
There’s a reason the Gophers are ranked so highly to start this season. Players such as Partain, Fiser and Natalie DenHartog, to name a few, give Minnesota a strong core that can compete with the best in the country.
But there are also spots to fill. Outfielder Maddie Houlihan graduated, slugger Hope Brandner isn’t medically cleared to start the season and the pitching staff behind Fiser is largely rebuilt. Others will step up, Trachsel is confident in as much, but Minnesota likely will have to find its identity over the first couple of months of the campaign.
“We’re going to stay pretty even-keeled with this team, because we know we’re a work in progress, and there’s a lot in front of us as we continue to get healthy, see what different people can do in different positions,” Trachsel said. “I feel like the team you’re going to see this weekend will not be the team that you see in March and April and certainly May, too. Because I think we’ll keep getting better.”
That’s the plan, anyway. The Gophers are leaning into preseason expectations. Partain said Minnesota indeed wants to get back to where it was a year ago, only take it one step further.
“We want to win a national championship, there’s no doubt about that,” Fiser said. “But first, we have to take care of our first game … We have a lot of season ahead of us before we even think about the World Series.”