#17 Minnesota Softball 2017 Preview

Minnesota Golden Gophers
Overall Rank: #17
Conference Rank: #2 Big Ten
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Minnesota continued its ascent up the ranks nationally last season as they won 43 games, including the Big Ten Championship against Michigan in an epic 3-2 win over the Wolverines. The Golden Gophers were sent out to the Seattle Regional and they played their way to the championship game against Washington but fell short 15-7 against the Huskies.  Looking ahead to 2017, a very experienced team returns for head coach Jessica Allister and, if Minnesota can stay healthy all year long, they should be in the conversation to potentially be a regional host in the NCAA Tournament.
2016: 43-14, 19-3
2016 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Jessica Allister
Key Departed Players:
Kayla Wenner, OF, .351 BA, 4 HR, 22 RBI
Taylor LeMay, C, .319 BA, 5 HR, 46 RBI
Paige Palkovich, UT, .275 BA, 7 HR, 36 RBI
Nikki Anderson. P, 81.2 IP, 3.43 ERA, 53 SO
Key Returning Players:
Sam Macken, IF, .366 BA, 12 HR, 53 RBI
Maddie Houlihan, IF/UT, .355 BA, 11 HR 46 RBI
Danielle Parlich, IF, .350 BA, 1 HR, 21 RBI
Sydney Dwyer, IF, .302 BA, 6 HR, 33 RBI
Sara Groenewegen, P/UT, .296 BA, 11 HR, 41 RBI
Sara Groenewegen, P/UT, 234.2 IP, 2.03 ERA, 336 SO
Sam Macken sets the pace for the rest of the Golden Gophers lineup from the leadoff spot. Macken can hit for a high average with plenty of power and has pretty good plate discipline, walking 22 times last season while striking out only 14 times. Maddie Houlihan made an immediate impact last season, hitting .355 with 11 homeruns and 46 runs batted in enroute to winning the Big Ten Freshman of the Year award in 2016. It will be interesting to see how pitchers adjust their approach to Houlihan and it will be very interesting to see Houlihan respond to these adjustments by opposing pitchers. Sara Groenewegen is back for her senior season to anchor the pitching rotation. When Groenewegen is rolling, she is one of the top strikeout pitchers in the sport as she struck out 336 batters in 234.2 innings of work last season. In addition, Groenewegen is tough to deal with at the plate. She has plenty of power, hitting 11 homeruns last season, to go along with hitting just under .300. Groenewegen should be in the conversation all year long for national player of the year type of awards. The biggest question that has to be answered is probably the number two starting pitcher spot in the rotation with the graduation of Nikki Anderson. This battle between Tori Finucane, Amber Fiser and Kendal Judge should be a highly competitive one to decide who fills that 100 innings or so that Groenewegen won’t pitch. Minnesota, when all is said and done, should be right on Michigan’s tail for the Big Ten title and be around the top 15 or so by the start of the NCAA Tournament.
Projected Postseason: NCAA Softball Tournament
Madness 2017 Draft Rankings:
#7 Sara Groenewegen