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The Gophers open their softball season with games on Friday against No. 12 Georgia and Central Florida. The second game, against UCF, is on ESPN+ at 5:30 p.m. While the Gophers are seen as one of the best teams in the Big Ten, and have been a frequent NCAA tournament participant in recent years, they are starting the season without being nationally ranked.

Here are 10 things to know about the team.

  1. Almost every preseason poll out there has Minnesota as the third best team in the Big Ten behind Michigan and Northwester, two teams with dominating pitchers.
  2. Seniors Natalie DenHartog and Autumn Pease are both listed among Extra Innings Softball's top 100 players in the country. DenHartog, a center fielder, is No, 41, Pease, a pitcher, is No. 85.
  3. Two incoming freshmen from southern Cal are among the best prospects in their class and should make an immediate impact. Pitcher Emily Leavitt is ranked No. 21 by Extra Inning, third baseman Kayla Chavez No. 31. Their summer team, Athletics Mercado, won a national tournament in Oklahoma City in late July.
  4. Good thing coach Piper Ritter has Pease and Leavitt and sophomore Ansleigh Hollifield. They are the only pitcher on her staff. Three left the team after fall ball: junior Kianna Jones for North Carolina, and junior Ava Dueck of Maple Grove and freshman Brynn Hostettler of Northfield.
  5. DenHartog is averaging better than one RBI per game — 121 RBI in 116 games. "There is no pitcher she ever feared," Ritter said.
  6. Sophomore catcher Sara Kinch made one error in 290 chances last season. That's a .997 fielding percentage. She threw our or picked off 17 runners.
  7. Junior Sydney Strelow was a catcher primarily as a freshman, a right fielder or first baseman as a sophomore, and could play some at second base this season. She's versatile.
  8. Makenna Dowell, a grad transfer from Auburn, started all 51 games for the Tigers at shortstop last season and hit .294 with 20 walks. So she knows how to get on base.
  9. Here's how the roster breaks down by state: California 6, Wisconsin 4, Minnesota 3, Georgia 2, and Colorado, Kentucky, Texas, South Dakota and Virginia 1 apiece, That's nine states.
  10. And by year in school: Graduate students 3, seniors 5, juniors 1, sophomores 7, freshmen 3.