The Gophers are off to a winning start, but it hasn't come without growing pains.
Minnesota heads into spring break on a nine-game, week-long trip in Arizona against five different teams. They will play two three-game series, one against Arizona State and one against New Mexico State. Outfielder Maddie Houlihan said the team will use the trip to grow.
"We're getting better defensively," head coach Jamie Trachsel said. "We're making more routine plays consistently, we're definitely more comfortable with runners in traffic."
Though Minnesota's record is 12-7, it hasn't matched last season's record pace. The Gophers completed their 2017 season with an unprecedented 56-5 record and their first Big Ten regular season title since 1991.
This season has been different. The Gophers are 12-7, with a record of 1-4 against ranked teams.
Before her first season with Minnesota, Trachsel defined herself as a coach who would take the championship-caliber team already there to the next level defensively, she said. Trachsel also said that, so far, the team has made big defensive plays in key moments and have limited the damage done by opposing offenses if possible.
"I think, with each weekend, we've come back with new things we can get better at," first baseman Sydney Dwyer said. "Whether it's getting lead outs, finally getting on dirt when we go play down south, it's nice to learn from that."
To excel on defense, Dwyer said positioning and knowing where her teammates are is key, as well as defensive shifts and the need to cover certain spots of the field during an at-bat.
Generally this season, Minnesota's pitching has found ways to keep some opponents off the board. Collectively, the pitching staff, led by sophomore Amber Fiser, has an earned run average just above 2.40, while their opponents have close to a 4.00 ERA.
In addition to the pitching, the Gophers have 21 more strikeouts than their opponents and have allowed 23 fewer runs than their opponents this season.
"They work together," Trachsel said. "When you position yourself, you're really dependent on your pitchers throwing the ball where it's supposed to go."
Overall, Minnesota is working to be more comfortable in its identity and to make another run to the Big Ten championship.
Playing as a team has been a focus for the coach all season. They look to build on that while school is out of session and the team is together for more than a week in Arizona.
"Team chemistry is also something that needs to be built off the field," Houlihan said. "Spending this time together and going on a spring break trip definitely brings out a lot of emotion and excitement. It's a lot of time together."