It has been a long journey with a lot of bumps in the road for senior Dani Wagner to end up in center field for the Gophers softball team.
Minnesota takes on Penn State in the final regular season series, which will be Wagner’s last time in front of her home fans before the Big Ten tournament and the NCAA championships.
“It’s honestly just been a privilege to be here, to be a part of this team,” Wagner said. “I’m just making the most of it, being with all of these great people is just great.”
Wagner’s journey at Minnesota is different than some others' may be. Wagner didn’t come in and start every game for the team for four years at the same position. Though she is now a center fielder, she began her career with the Gophers as a shortstop.
In 2017, Wagner played in all 61 games for the Gophers, but this time, she was in the outfield. She said the move was based on speed.
“When I was at short, I covered a lot of ground going after fly balls," Wagner said. "We had someone else coming in as a shortstop, so we were like ‘Hey, let’s try this out.’”
Wagner was still in the outfield her senior year, but she had to overcome an injury she sustained in the beginning of the season. She broke her hand early in a game, which forced her to miss 20 of Minnesota's 48 games so far.
Since she came back into the lineup, the team has gone 17-3, including 15-3 in the Big Ten. Wagner said the time away with injury made her appreciate being in games much more.
“She’s someone who will take a stand and say what she feels is right,” head coach Jamie Trachsel said. “I think her composure is a big part of her success in big moments.”
Off the field, Wagner is in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, planning to graduate with majors in food science and nutrition studies.
She is on track to get her degree soon, and her interest in the field started at a job shadow at Hormel Foods.
“I liked the idea that you could work with food and manipulate food and go with the quality aspect of it, too,” Wagner said.
Besides work with food science, Wagner, her mother, Jana, and Trachsel all said Dani Wagner could find herself in coaching or involved in the game in some way. Jana said her daughter could even add teaching to her degree to boost her coaching.
“I think she realizes that she likes the game that much that she’ll need to coach to be happy,” Jana said.
Dani Wagner's love for the game is not lost on her team. Her teammate and fellow outfielder Maddie Houlihan said her presence teaching in the outfield was invaluable.
Wagner's new head coach added that she has been invaluable to the team through this season and, like Houlihan said, is a natural teacher.
Trachsel spoke of Dani’s importance when addressing her injury.
“We didn’t know if she would be able to come back or when that was,” Trachsel said. “I was like ‘You know, we can’t do this without you, so whenever we get you back, we’ll take you back.’ It came just at the right time.”