The Minnesota softball program is standing at a fork in the road. After their best season in program history, the Gophers will either continue building on their success or return to the middle of the pack in the Big Ten conference.
Two key players and a new head coach would like to ensure that Minnesota continues to lead the conference and gain more respect from the NCAA tournament committee next season. Sophomore sensation Kendyl Lindaman and senior standout Sydney Dwyer spearhead the roster, while new coach Jamie Trachsel -- taking over for Jessica Allister after she left for her alma mater Stanford -- aims to guide the Gophers in the right direction.
Before leaving, Allister helped build a Big Ten power that absolutely dominated opponents in 2017 to the tune of a 54-3 regular season record.
We know the rest of the story. That domination -- and the No. 1 ranking in the country -- was not good enough to receive one of the 16 regional host bids in the NCAA tournament. Instead, the Gophers were sent to Alabama to play the Crimson Tide in a controversial series that ended Minnesota's season.
The loss also ended the career of one of the best pitchers in the country, Sara Groenewegen, who finished her senior season with a 31-4 record and 0.63 ERA.
Now the Gophers have to look ahead as they seek their first trip to the Women's College World Series. How will the power hitting duo of Kendyl and Sydney lead Minnesota next year? Just ask coach Trachsel.
"While the decision to leave Iowa State was challenging, the opportunity that lies ahead at Minnesota to continue building a national powerhouse while returning to my home state is one that I could not pass up," Trachsel said in her introduction as head coach. "The foundation that is in place is truly remarkable."
Minnesota Powered By Players Who Crush
In 2017, Minnesota was known for dominant pitching from Groenewegen. Under the radar was a combined 152 RBIs from Kendyl Lindaman and Sydney Dwyer. Just look at last year's stat lines for the Gophers' power hitters.
- .426 average
- 20 HRs
- 76 RBIs
- 58 runs scored
- .374 average
- 12 HRs and 12 doubles
- 76 RBIs
- 116 total bases
Don't forget that Lindaman was just a freshman last season. In addition, she started 61 games as a catcher. Her performance was good enough to be named a first-team All-American. Her freshman season also caught the of USA Softball. Earlier this month, Lindaman was announced for the 2018 USA Softball national team selection camp taking place in January in Florida.
Lindaman will be part of a group of elite softball players vying for roster spots on the 2018 USA Softball women's national team.
Then there's the senior leader of the Gophers, Sydney Dwyer.
Dwyer joined the Gophers in 2015, the year after Minnesota made its first Super Regionals appearance in the 2014 NCAA Tournament.
From 2015 to 2017, the team improved each year in the regular season under coach Allister. However, the Gophers lost in the first round of every NCAA tournament during Dwyer's first three years. Dwyer wants to finish her senior season the right way by advancing to Oklahoma City to play in the WCWS.
Learning How To Respond To 2017 NCAA Tournament
There's a famous saying in college athletics that freshmen just want to play, sophomores want to start, juniors want to win, and seniors are thinking about their future.
In the case of Lindaman, she played, started, and won in her freshman season. Meanwhile, Dwyer had been through enough postseason disappointment that she badly wanted to win as a junior.
That did not materialize in 2017. Now, the two hitting leaders of the Gophers have to find a way to lead their team to the WCWS in 2018. It certainly helps to have two of the most powerful swings in the country.
What makes Lindaman so special at the plate is her near-perfect swing. As you can see in this video from the Big Ten softball tournament, Lindaman has impeccable timing, a big stride, and a wicked uppercut that puts her bat right in the path of the ball. The result? A hit in nearly every other at-bat and 20 HRs as a freshman.
Lindaman is only going to get better in her sophomore, junior, and senior seasons, which is scary for opposing pitchers.
Dwyer is already scary for opponents: she had one of the most famous home runs of the 2017 season when she walked-off Illinois in the Big Ten tournament. She crushed the ball so far that it landed on the Michigan baseball field behind the softball field.
Her swing is a little different than Lindaman's. As the pitch is coming home, Dwyer coils up like a snake, then unleashes a powerful swing that allows her to generate home run distance.
However, neither Lindaman nor Dwyer was able to generate those home run swings in the regionals round of the NCAA tournament. In fact, no one on the Minnesota roster hit a home run in the regionals.
Overall, the Gophers scored 16 runs in two wins over Louisiana Tech, but they did not score against Alabama in two excruciating 1-0 losses. In those losses to Alabama, the Gophers missed big hits from their big power duo. Dwyer went 0-6 in both games, while Lindaman went a combined 1-4 with three walks.
Both have learned from the bitter ending to their 2017 season. Dwyer gets one more shot at redemption in her senior season, while Lindaman is just getting started on what could be an all-time great college softball career.
Now they are on a mission to build on last season and lift the Gophers to the WCWS.