Whether she’s stepping into the circle wearing the Maroon and Gold for Gopher Softball or red and white for her national team – she’s Canadian, after all – Sara Groenewegen is a winner. She’s done little else for either team over the past several years.
The junior pitcher became just the third player in the history of the Big Ten to earn the conference’s Pitcher of the Year and Freshman of the Year awards in the same season following her rookie campaign in 2014.
“I knew I wanted to have an impact right away,” Groenewegen remembered from her first year on campus. “It meant a lot for me to be able to make [that] big impact.”
Groenewegen – who is known by the shorter moniker of “G” among her teammates – followed up on her first impression with an equally impressive sophomore season, receiving the Big Ten Player of the Year award. She was the first Gopher to earn that distinction in more than 20 years and became the first Minnesota player (and just the third in conference history) to ever earn all three awards, reaching that unprecedented level just halfway through her collegiate career.
After her Player of the Year season last spring, Groenewegen won the gold-medal game at the Pan American Championships, pitching Canada to a 4-2 win over the USA and snapping the U.S.’s 28-year stranglehold on the tournament’s top spot.
“I get chills every time I put on the Maple Leaf,” she said. “I get feelings of pride getting to represent [my] country. There’s no other feeling like it.”
The gold-medal performance took long-time runner-up Canada, which had brought home silver from the tournament the past four times – and put them on the top of the podium. The team’s victory drew attention across the nation, attention that included coverage of its star pitcher and her ties to collegiate softball in the U.S. Groenewegen hopes all that positive focus makes a difference in how young athletes in her home country look at playing softball.
“It helps grow the game and that’s all we can really ask for, just growing the game locally and at the national level,” she said. “I know there are a lot more kids from Canada looking to go to the NCAA in the States.”
From her hometown of White Rock, B.C., to Dinkytown and beyond, Groenewegen sees not only her success – but the success of all female student-athletes at the U of M – as a way to grow their favorite sports.
“Our women’s sports here at Minnesota are doing so well and it’s really an honor to be a part of it,” she said. “We’re just hoping we continue to build that legacy for women’s sports here at Minnesota … we’re doing whatever we can to get people out and for people to enjoy our sports.”
White Rock, British Columbia
Big Ten Player of the Year
Big Ten Pitcher of the Year