In four short years with Minnesota, head coach Jessica Allister has manufactured some of the program’s most successful teams.
When she arrived on campus, though, that didn’t seem plausible.
Allister inherited a program that had placed fifth or lower in the Big Ten in 10 of the 11 seasons before she arrived. It hadn’t won 30 games in six years.
Now, four years into her run as head coach, the team is in the middle of one of the best seasons in program history. Much of that success has come in response to Allister’s philosophy on the diamond — building people first and athletes second.
Minnesota junior infielder Tyler Walker said Allister’s greatest influence has been off the field. She credited the coach with developing her players both as athletes and as people.
“She spends a lot of time telling us that there are a lot of things in life other than softball,” Walker said. “We have to stay on top of our grades, and we need to be great in the community.”
The team’s growth and maturation over the last four years is a testament to the success of her coaching philosophy.
Allister said at this point in the season, she’s just there to guide the team if she feels they’re off-track — other than that, her players are very independent.
“They know what this team is all about,” she said. “We as coaches are here to be used as a guiding hand, but the girls know how to work hard and take care of themselves on and off the field.”
And for a team with just three seniors on the roster, that maturity speaks volumes about Allister’s influence.
University senior associate athletics director Marc Ryan echoed those thoughts, saying the off-field development of Allister’s players has been essential to their success on the field.
“She not only coaches tremendous softball players, but excellent students — and most importantly, outstanding young women,” Ryan said. “And the results speak for themselves.”
Still, a group of tremendous people isn’t necessarily a tremendous softball team. A team needs someone to develop talent — something Allister has proven she can do at a high level.
Gophers sophomore catcher Taylor LeMay, whose 10 home runs rank fifth in the Big Ten, said Allister’s help has been invaluable in developing her personal talent.
“When I got to Minnesota, I was very raw,” LeMay said. “Coach Allister has gotten more out of me than I ever thought I had.”
LeMay isn’t the only player who has found success while wearing the maroon and gold.
This year’s roster features two finalists for the 2014 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year honor — senior pitcher Sara Moulton and junior infielder Kaitlyn Richardson. It also features three returning All-Big Ten first-teamers — Richardson, Moulton and Walker.
Allister’s players said she holds them to high standards, but her positive attitude motivates them to succeed.
Allister said to her, the game is all about having fun — a certain type of fun.
“I think winning is fun,” she said, “but to me, working hard to be the best you can be is fun.
“So yeah — I think we’re all about having fun. And we have a lot of it.”