Minnesota head softball coach Jessica Allister enters her sixth season leading the Minnesota softball program coming off another great year in 2015 that saw the Gophers tie for the most wins in a Gopher season at 49 and finish with the best win percentage the team has ever seen. She is 191-88 overall in her career.
Allister’s fifth season saw Minnesota go over the 30 win mark for the fifth straigh time as they finished 49-11 overall. The team started out hot winning its first eight games tying the longest win streak to start a season in school history. The Gophers made it to the regional final before taking a heartbreaker loss at the hands of Arizona in a 7-6 eight inning loss.
Allister coached the team to its highest batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, most doubles and most home runs it has ever had in the 2015 season. The team was also strong on the mound finishing with the most strikeouts a Gopher team has ever had. Minnesota also had the big ten player of the year in Sara Groenewegen along with 14 total players being earning Academic All-B1G Honors.
In Allister’s fourth season in Minneapolis, Minnesota bested 30 wins for the fourth-straight season and eclipsed the 40-win plateau for the first time in 15 years, going 44-12. After walking off with their first Big Ten Tournament win since 1999 against top-seeded Michigan, the Gophers were selected to host an NCAA regional for the second time in program history. With wins over Green Bay, North Dakota State, and No. 21/22 Auburn, the team reached its first-ever super regional.
The 2014 edition of the Gophers was strong both in the circle and at the plate. The team, which finished with a program-best (NCAA-era) .786 winning percentage, belted a school-record at the time 68 home runs, aiding a Minnesota-best team slugging percentage of .501. Pitchers Sara Moulton, Nikki Anderson, and Sara Groenewegen teamed up to set school records with 22 shutout wins and 487 strikeouts, marks that ranked the squad in the top three nationally on the season.
Allister picked up her 100th win with the Maroon and Gold on the first day of the season when the Gophers blanked No. 17 LSU in Baton Rouge, La. in the first of the team’s 16 wins against eventual NCAA Tournament teams. Minnesota finished the season tabbed 14th in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Rankings and 15th in the USA Today/NFCA Coaches Rankings, the highest-ever final ranking for a Gopher team in either poll.
Jessica Merchant is in her sixth season as an assistant coach with the Golden Gophers softball program after serving four years at UMass in the same capacity.
In her first year with Minnesota in 2011, Merchant was on staff for an impressive turnaround by the Gophers on the softball field. The team nearly doubled its win total from 2010, finishing the season with a 31-24 overall record and improving its conference mark from two wins in 2010 to nine victories in 2011.
During 2012, the second-year assistant helped guide a youthful squad to another season with more than 30 wins. Merchant assisted in assembling a brand new Gopher infield that highlighted three freshmen and new first baseman in junior Alex Davis. Her coaching helped the squad post a Big Ten-best fielding percentage of .971.
In 2014, Minnesota built on 2013 campaign the saw the squad reach the NCAA Tounrnament for the first time in a decade by besting 30 wins for the fourth-straight season and eclipsing the 40-win plateau for the first time in 15 years, going 44-12. The team went on to defeat Merchant’s alma mater, Michigan, in the Big Ten Tournament title game and clinch its first-ever NCAA super regional berth.
Merchant works primarily with the teams infielders. She helped former Gopher Malisa Barnes earn her third All-Big Ten honor and former Gophers Kaitlyn Richardson and Tyler Walker to three NFCA Great Lakes All-Region teams each. They both also earned three and four all-conference accolades, respectively. Both were named to the All-Big Ten First Team as sophomores in 2013 and as a juniors in 2014 and were all-region honorees in both years. Richardson was became the school’s third two-time All-American with a third-team nod in 2013 and a second-team nod in 2014. She was also a top-25 finalist to the NFCA National Player of the Year Award. Again in 2015 Richardson earned All-American honors being named a senior class First-Team All-American. She also helped Danielle Parlich record a strong freshman season at second base. Parlich was named to the Big Ten All-Defensive Team fielding a .971 fielding percentage. Parlich was also a top-10 finalist for the NFCA Freshman of the Year award.
Merchant is also instrumental to the Gophers’ success in the classroom, as 41 student-athletes have earned Academic All-Big Ten distinction during the current coaching staff’s first five seasons.
Former Minnesota pitcher Piper Ritter is in her ninth season with the Gophers as pitching coach, having already developed two of the top hurlers in Minnesota softball history, Brianna Hassett and Sara Moulton and another in current Gopher Sara Groenewegen.
Ritter guided Groenewegen to Big Ten Freshman of the Year and Big Ten Pitcher of the Year honors in 2014, making the White Rock, B.C. native the third player in conference history to win both awards in the same season. Groenewegen finished the season with the nation’s top strikeouts-per-seven-innings rate at 11.6 and was a top-10 finalist for the inaugural NFCA Freshman of the Year Award. She helped Groenewegen become the third player in conference history to win Big Ten Player, Pitcher and Freshman of the Year awards in her career after another solid season in 2015. Groenewegen was named a NFCA Second-Team All-American and finished the season with an ERA of 1.67, best in the Big Ten. The 2015 Gophers had more strikeouts than any other season and posted a team ERA of 2.34.
Through four seasons, Ritter helped Minnesota with its dramatic turnaround by mentoring Moulton, who left Minnesota with program records for wins, appearances (178), innings pitched (1,017), complete games (108), no-hitters (five) shutouts (47), and strikeouts (1,184). Moulton went on to earn NFCA Second Team All-America honors after being selected fifth overall in the 2013 National Pro Fastpitch College Draft. She was a four-time All-Big Ten honoree, a top-25 finalist for the 2014 NFCA National Player of the Year Award, and was a top-30 finalist for the 2014 Senior CLASS Award.
As a staff, Moulton, Groenewegen, and Nikki Anderson set single-season school records for shutouts with 22 and strikeouts with 487, both marks that put the Gophers in the top three nationally. Minnesota went on to post its winningest season in 15 years, capture the Big Ten Tournament title, and seal its first-ever NCAA super regional berth, posting a team ERA of 2.00.
Marten earned All-Big Ten honors all four years at Minnesota, including a first-team selection in 2003 when she posted 11 shutouts and what was then a single-season record 311 strikeouts. She also garnered NFCA All-Mideast Region accolades three times during her career and led the Gophers to the NCAA Regional Tournament two times (2002 and 2003).