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For Minnesota's Natalie DenHartog, Fifth Year Was No-Brainer

natalie denhartog photo by minnesota athletics.jpg
(Photo by Minnesota Athletics)

Natalie DenHartog had no hesitations about taking her fifth year of NCAA eligibility with the University of Minnesota. From the start of her freshman year, being a Gopher meant something deep in her heart, and her dedication to the program was something she wasn’t ready to leave behind just yet.

“Taking my fifth year was honestly never really a question,” DenHartog said. “I always joked with people and said I am going to play until the NCAA kicks me out. I have always loved representing Minnesota and sticking with a program through the ups and downs. I think there is merit to really being loyal to a program.”

The hitting superstar will return to the field this season with a different mindset than in past years. After hitting a career-best 19 home runs and becoming Minnesota’s all-time home run record holder in 2022, DenHartog hopes to continue that success in 2023, while also focusing on finding herself outside of the game.

“This year is marked just by a difference in mindset for me,” DenHartog said. “Being a fifth-year student-athlete put a lot of things into perspective, and I started to learn that having more than softball on my plate and finding my identity outside the field is really important. It’s helped me become a better player that way.”

While viewing softball with a new attitude, DenHartog has also taken to the weight room this offseason to help take her game to the next level.

“I have always relied on our weight coach, Sarah Wiley,” DenHartog said. “She helps us with hip mobility, which is really important when it comes to hitting and being powerful and forceful, but still smooth and in-sequence with our body. We do a lot of work in the weight room that translates into our swings and into throwing.”

DenHartog started her career with Minnesota as a pinch hitter and quickly worked her way into the clean-up spot in the lineup, which is somewhere she never expected to be.

“Everyone has always asked me how I felt about (pinch hitting), but honestly I was never surprised to be in that position because I didn’t come into college expecting to be the best,” DenHartog said. “I didn’t even come into college expecting to be very good. I just expected to work hard and fight for every opportunity that was given.”

Reflecting on her past seasons with the Gophers, DenHartog is proud of the player and person she has become. Through coaching changes, COVID-19 halting play and playing with all sorts of different teammates, she wouldn’t change her experiences at Minnesota over the last five years for anything.

“Every year has really taught me something different,” DenHartog said. “Freshman year I was having a blast, but I was pretty naive to some of the bigger challenges, but I have grown more mature. I learned how to work with different people, communicate more effectively, take the game for what it is and not read into it too much.”

Though DenHartog will finish her playing career with the Gophers this spring, she believes softball won’t be going anywhere for her anytime soon. She hopes to continue her career at different levels in the future.

“I hope to maybe go play overseas if there are some European opportunities and use softball as a vessel to travel,” DenHartog said. “I don’t have any plans set in stone at this moment, but I know softball in some capacity will be a big part of my life. I don’t worry about losing it (in my life) because I know it will always be around.”

natalie denhartog minnesota photo by brad rempel.jpg

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