More than any other time in its history, Gopher Athletics is home to a powerful collection of female stars
– by Jake Ricker –
Individual brilliance can be found throughout the more than century long history of women’s athletics at the University of Minnesota. To list each example would leave this issue of the magazine bulging from both covers. With that said, it’s impossible to cite any other time when those examples of individual brilliance overlapped as heavily as they have this year, with so many female Gophers shining so brightly across a wide swath of Gopher programs.
Five of Minnesota’s women’s teams reached the NCAA postseason this season, with softball likely to become the sixth later this spring. Three others sent individual competitors to compete in national meets. As of April 21, Gopher Athletics has racked up the fourth-most points in the Learfield Directors’ Cup standings from its women’s program, a number driven, in part, by the success standings from of its women’s programs. This is just one measure indicating what fans already know – women’s athletics at Minnesota are among the nation’s best, this year more than perhaps any other.
“It’s just an unbelievable time here for the female sports,” said Hannah Brandt, captain of the national champion women’s hockey team. “So many teams did amazing things this year. It’s awesome to see.” Results like these from its women’s teams are not foreign to the Gophers. Success in women’s athletics has been a staple of the University’s athletics department for years. What makes this season different than so many that preceded it is the luminous collection of standout student-athletes that contribute to these teams’ achievements.
There are 25 female student-athletes who competed for Minnesota this academic year who have been an All-American at some point in their careers. Within this impressive class of nationally recognized athletes is yet another tier of radiant talent, a select few who have achieved at unprecedented levels during their Gopher careers.
This tier includes the second-most prolific scorer in NCAA women’s basketball history (Rachel Banham), the second-greatest point scorer in NCAA women’s hockey history (Hannah Brandt), the most decorated gymnast to ever compete for Minnesota (Lindsay Mable) and the first Gopher to win the conference’s Freshman, Player and Pitcher of the Year awards during her career (Sara Groenewegen).
“When you’re around a lot of people doing amazing things you just want to be up there with them,” noted Mable, a two-time Big Ten Gymnast of the Year. “I know how amazing [these other women] are – not only amazing athletes, but amazing people. They represent this university so well. … It is inspiring to be among that group.”
The current class of great female athletes isn’t powered solely by this foursome. There’s All-American Hannah Tapp, a key contributor to a Big Ten title and Final Four run for women’s volleyball. Jess Lehman (formerly Herauf), not only set the program record in the pentathlon, but broke her own record twice during her Big Ten championship season. NCAA champ Yu Zhou earned Big Ten Diver of the Year honors for a second consecutive year this winter and Big Ten Forward of the Year Simone Kolander scored the gamewinning goal in an upset over No. 4 Penn State to help key the soccer team’s run to the national tournament.
That easily, four more great female student-athletes emerge. Without investing much more time, the list could seemingly go from eight to eighty.
Because that collective is so large and so successful, it is becoming self-sustaining. The greatness of one inspires greatness for two more. Success begets success, pouring over the boundaries between programs and electrifying each of the hundreds of female student- athletes competing for Minnesota.
Zhou succinctly said what all the studen-athletes interviewed for this piece said, either direct or subtly: “When I see others win championships, it keeps reminding me that if they can do that, I can do that.”