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Gophers softball starts new era with coach Jamie Trachsel

Minnesota Gophers softball head coach Jamie Trachsel, second from left, talks with players, including Sydney Dwyer (32) and Katelyn Kemmetmueller before a game against North Dakota State on Oct. 7. 2017 at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium in Minneapolis. Brad Rempel / University of Minnesota Athletics

ST. PAUL — When coach Jessica Allister left the Gophers softball team in July, Minnesota athletics director Mark Coyle consulted a prepared list of potential replacements and sought input from baseball coach John Anderson.

Anderson, who has been at the U since 1981, told his boss to find someone who knows how to coach indoors. Well, Jamie Trachsel doesn't know any different.

Coyle liked Trachsel's coaching résumé, which included a 244-144 record in six seasons at North Dakota State and one rebuilding year at Iowa State — northern schools accustomed to starting each season sheltered from winter.

Within a week, Trachsel, a Duluth native who played at St. Cloud State, was hired to replace Allister, the most successful coach in program history, who had been lured away by her alma mater Stanford.

"We just thought she would be a good fit for us, and that is how we were able to move so quickly," Coyle said. "Throw in the fact that she is from Duluth and has Minnesota connections, it just felt really good."

Trachsel and the 16th-ranked Gophers play the first of 31 consecutive road games in Friday's season opener against Southern Utah in Las Vegas. That starts a five-game set over three days in the UNLV SportCo Kickoff Classic.

The Gophers return 14 starters, including three top-50 players in Kendal Lindaman, Danielle Parlich and Maddie Houlihan, according to the USA Softball collegiate player of the year watch list. The Gophers lost ace Sara Groenewegen, as well as pitcher Tori Finucane, but added Maple Grove's Sydney Smith, a transfer from LSU, to go with returning pitchers Amber Fisher and Carlie Brandt.

Trachsel doffs her cap to the foundation Allister built at Minnesota — 290-107 in seven seasons, including the Gophers' first Big Ten regular-season championship since 1991.

"It's a championship-caliber program, anyway," Trachsel said. "I don't know if the message is real different."

Trachsel describes her style as intense, passionate and defense-focused. "I work hard for kids," she said. "I will do anything. If I don't sleep, I don't sleep. It's all about maximizing this opportunity for the kids that are here. It's really about your seniors and trying to send them out as high as possible."

The last batch of Gophers seniors suffered whiplash before their season ended in the 2017 NCAA tournament. Despite a No. 2 national ranking, the U was snubbed for one of the 16 seeds to host a regional.

The NCAA cited strength of schedule in its justification, which didn't add up for the Gophers. Minnesota didn't make it out of the regional, ending its season well short of a much higher goal. During Allister's seven-year tenure, the Gophers reached one super regional.

"I think we always have a chip on our shoulder, but we did need to get past it and over that," said Lindaman, an All-American catcher. "It's a new season now. Yes, it is hard and it's always going to be in the back of our mind, but that can't just be the only driving force for us this season."

Trachsel inherits the dichotomy of unprecedented regular-season success and abrupt postseason ending.

"It's a balance, for sure," Trachsel said. "You want them to have that ... bitter taste in their mouth without dwelling on it and making that a focal point because you can't live in the past. So you have to handle it and move forward and use it any way that you can. I think no matter how much success you've had or whatever you've been able to accomplish, you never want your best years to be behind you."

First baseman Sydney Dwyer just wants to hit the road with her new coach.

"She has a lot of energy and she is very competitive, so that has been the most fun thing, and the thing that I've noticed the most," Dwyer said. "I'm looking forward to getting on the road and seeing how she is in games."

The Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.

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