Looking back on it now, Gophers softball coach Jamie Trachsel couldn’t have picked a more perfect song to serve as the soundtrack of this season.
It started way back in the fall when Trachsel gathered her players along the backstop at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium toward the end of the first practice of the season. She turned up the volume on the stadium’s speakers, and “Dream On” by Aerosmith blared for everyone to hear.
Maybe a little old-school for a team full of millennials, though the symbolism, especially during the anthemic chorus, wasn’t lost on anyone in attendance.
After letting her players bask in the moment, Trachsel issued a rather simple challenge. She didn’t set any concrete goals, only asking that her players dream as big as they possibly could.
“Why not us?” Trachsel said, a phrase that became a rallying cry for the Gophers long before their unprecedented run to the Women’s College World Series.
Ultimately, the Gophers came up five wins short of a national championship, though the fact they were playing during the final weekend of the season proved the point Trachsel was trying to make all along.
“This is a place that you can chase your dreams,” Trachsel said last weekend at USA Softball Hall Of Fame Stadium, about 30 minutes after the final chapter closed on a storybook season for the Gophers. “This is a place kids can come and have the best of everything. They just have to be willing to work for it.”
If there was any questions regarding the viability of a successful program in the Twin Cities, the Gophers laid that to rest this season, proving that northern schools belong on the same stage as southern schools. That notion is only going to grow in the coming seasons with the Gophers leading the charge.
Nobody on the roster can speak about that shift in mentality more authoritatively than senior pitcher Sydney Smith. She left home once upon a time, committing to LSU as a high schooler, only to return home and help make history.
“You can tell that Gophers softball is changing,” Smith said. “We can compete with anyone in the country. We proved that this season. We are ending our season as the No. 7 team in the country, and not many programs can say that.”
Now the next step for the Gophers is continuing the upward trajectory. Not that any of the seniors leaving the program — Smith, Maddie Houlihan, Allie Arneson, and Taylor Chell — are worried about that.
This trip to the Women’s College World Series felt less like a fluke and more like the start of something bigger for a program very much on the rise.
“It’s in very good hands,” Houlihan said. “I think the coaching staff did an unbelievable job of working their butt off to get us where we needed to be and the (players) did a great job of buying into the process and trusting each other. I think this program is only going to get better. Everyone knows how to work hard. Everyone knows how to compete together. I truly believe the future is still very bright.”
It’s not hard to envision a scenario in which the Gophers are back in the Women’s College World Series as soon as next season.
To start, they return ace Amber Fiser in the pitcher’s circle to go along with top hitters MaKenna Partain, Hope Brandner, and Natalie DenHartog.
That, coupled with the highly anticipated return of leadoff hitter Ellee Jensen, and the further development of some of the younger players on the roster, and the cupboard is far from barren.
“Hopefully it lit a fire for a lot of the players,” Trachsel said. “This is a reality now. Before it might have been a dream. It was a dream just to get here. Not anymore.”
Still, Trachsel wants her players to continue to dream as big as they possibly can.
That was kind of the point of this unprecedented run.
“It’s definitely somewhere you can chase your dreams,” Smith said. “This speaks to itself. We are (at the Women’s College World Series) right now. Why not Minnesota? Why not us? Why not come here and be different and change history? We made history this season. Not a lot of people can say that. This program is only on the up from here.”