The Minnesota Gophers softball team had a lot of firsts this past season. Add losing a successful coach to the list. The Gophers announced Tuesday afternoon that Gopher head softball coach Jessica Allister was leaving the U to take the same position with Stanford Cardinal.
Allister is a Stanford grad, and one of the best players in Cardinal history. She was the starting catcher for the school from 2001-2004 and is the all-time leader in Stanford history for games played and fielding percentage. She helped Stanford to the College World Series in 2001 and 2004 and was named an All-America in 2004.
In her six years at Minnesota she led the Gophers to a 290-107 record. Minnesota has made the NCAA Tournament the last five seasons. The Gophers have won the last two Big Ten Tournament titles, and won their first regular season Big Ten Championship since 1991 last season. Minnesota also achieved its first ever #1 national ranking a year ago, feats that earned Allister the Big Ten and Midwest Region Coach of the Year Awards.
In her six years as a coach, Allister has coached two Big Ten Players of the Year, two Big Ten Pitchers of the year, and four Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Its the latter where Minnesota will most miss Allister as she has been a relentless recruiter and has identified several diamonds in the rough. Allister was the only reason British Columbia native Sara Groenewegen ended up at Minnesota, and we all know how well that worked out.
Allister will replace Rachel Hanson as the head coach of the Cardinal. Hanson stepped down last week to become the executive director of the Baseball and Softball Education Foundation in St. Louis, Missouri. Of course, she probably didn’t step down on her own after the Cardinal finished an embarrassing 19-32 a year ago. Hanson lasted three years in Palo Alto and did not lead the Cardinal to a single NCAA Tournament berth after Stanford had gone the previous 16 seasons.
Minnesota tried as hard as they could to retain Allister, but the lure of returning her alma matter to glory was just too much for Minnesota Athletics Director Mark Coyle to overcome. He stated the following in the official release from the U of M:
“I want to thank Jessica for everything she’s done for our program. We wanted Jessica to continue leading our program and pursued her aggressively, even during the season, for a contract extension that would make her one of the highest-paid coaches in the Big Ten. I’m sad to see her go, but I am happy for her. She earned the opportunity to coach at her alma mater. I know that’s always been a dream of hers.”
“We will immediately begin a national search for our next head softball coach. The hard work of Jessica, her staff, and our student-athletes over the past seven years has rebuilt Minnesota into one of the country’s top programs. That success on the field, coupled with our continued investment in facilities, makes this a very attractive job. I’m confident we will hire a great coach to lead our program going forward.”
The hire will be the second highest profile of Coyle’s tenure as Gopher AD after PJ Fleck. The Gopher softball team has had an unprecedented five year run of success, and the hire Coyle will make will determine if the Gophers can remain a national player, or if they will fade to just competing for the consolation trophy that is a Big Ten title. Minnesota’s roster remains loaded and with the transfer of former LSU pitcher and Minnesota native Sydney Smith a few days ago, has the talent to make another national run next season. The pressure will be on the next coach to continue to recruit at the level Allister had done, which will not be easy at all.
Make no mistake—this is a huge blow to the Gopher softball program. Minnesota should still be able to maintain their presence as a Big Ten leader and national player with the right hire however. The Gopher job is night and day more attractive than when Allister was hired six years ago. There is no reason why Minnesota should not have a long list of qualified candidates to choose from. The pressure will just be on Coyle’s shoulders to make sure he makes the right decision for the future.