Gopher softball looks to make impression in NCAA tournament

After playing a Big Ten-only schedule, the Gophers softball team is ready for the big stage.  

Minnesota is heading to the NCAA tournament this week for a run that they’re ready to make the most of, especially after missing out in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We’re just super excited to be playing postseason softball," Gophers senior third baseman Katelyn Kemmetmueller said. "We obviously played only Big Ten teams this year, so it’s exciting to see somebody else on the docket coming up."

The Gophers have a new opportunity, and plenty of older players with experience from the team that made it to the Women’s College World Series in 2019.  

A group that includes fifth year seniors pitcher Amber Fiser, second baseman Makenna Partain, shortstop Carlie Brandt and third baseman Katelyn Kemmetmueller. They're all back for an extra season after the 2020 season was cut short.

"They know what to expect and they know the pressure you feel when you’re on that stage," Gophers head coach Piper Ritter said of her veteran seniors. "I think they’re excited for it."

"As leaders, we’ve got to take the reins and show our underclassmen what it’s about," Brandt said of this team’s postseason trip.

The Gophers faced some quality opponents in conference play, but there’s no bigger challenge than the potential one brewing this weekend against the Bruins.  

Minnesota is heading to the UCLA regional to start the NCAA Tournament. The Bruins are the second overall seed in this year’s tournament and are the last team to win a national championship.

"We get the chance to go somewhere and be the underdogs, and have a little bit of a chip on our shoulder," Brandt said. "It’s a weight off of us to free us up and play our game, and I think that’s a really unique experience."

Before thinking about facing UCLA, the Gophers know their focus has to be on the first game they play in the NCAA Tournament.  

Minnesota takes on Fresno State on Friday night at 7 p.m. to start their tourney run.

No matter which team is on the schedule this weekend, the Gophers say they are ready to go as far as they can as the road back to the WCWS begins this weekend.

"We have a great regional, but that’s the beauty of the postseason is that everybody has a great regional," Kemmetmueller said. "You don’t make it to the postseason if you’re not a great team."

"At the end of the day, we’ve trained all year for anything that they could throw our way," Kemmetmueller added. "I think we’re ready as a team."