Piper Ritter's Minnesota Team Has Pieces For Deep Run In 2021
Amber Fiser described her head coach Piper Ritter with a straightforward sentence.
“She is Minnesota softball,” Fiser said.
Ritter will start her 14th year on the Minnesota staff entering the 2020-21 season, but her first as the captain of the ship. Originally joining her alma mater as an assistant for Lisa Bernstein and Julie Standering back in 2007, Ritter helped Jessica Allister and Jamie Trachsel get the Golden Gophers to places they had never been before.
Both Allister and Trachsel eventually left for other head coaching jobs at Stanford and Ole Miss, respectively. Following Trachsel’s departure, Minnesota athletics director Mark Coyle decided back in May that Ritter was the best choice to lead Minnesota going forward.
“I don’t think anyone else was better for the position than Coach Ritter,” junior pitcher Autumn Pease told Softball America. “She fully encompasses everything this program is about. She loves this program like her baby and she’ll do anything for it. It’s great to have someone so passionate about it.”
An All-Big Ten selection all four years as a player at Minnesota, Ritter knows her way in the circle. She's played a big part in the successes of Fiser, Pease and other former Minnesota pitchers such as Briana Hassett, Sara Moulton and Sara Groenewegen. However, her expertise pitching-wise doesn’t make her a one-trick pony. Her coaching experience has been filled with plenty of non-pitching decisions as well.
“I’m never just always in the bullpen,” Ritter said. “This fall has allowed me to do a lot of other things in the game. I’ve always been in the game, all in. Whether it’s an offensive change or defensive change, pitching change, I’ve always been all in.”
Ritter’s coaching staff features a pair that is familiar with one another. Carly Wynn joins as an associate head coach after nearly a decade under Trisha Ford at Arizona State and Fresno State. Wynn also knows fellow new assistant and former Minnesota All-American Katie Richardson. Richardson served two seasons in two different roles on Ford’s staff at Arizona State, including during the team’s 2018 Women’s College World Series run.
The pair have brought a different enthusiasm to the program.
“I honestly don’t think we could’ve gotten a better staff,” Fiser said. “I think having them coach with each other at ASU, they already had a great connection with each other. Every day that they show up to practice, they’re in a good mood. They want to be, they want to help us. To us that means so much, we have coaches that are invested in us as players and people as well.”
Ritter’s job is made easier having Fiser and Pease along with their relationship already in place. The pitchers are eager to complement each other once again this season.
“Her and I have a lot of fun when it comes to pitching together,” Fiser said. “We are a good combination whenever we get to split games. Not only are we close on the field, but we are off the field as well. We have a good friendship and we go out there and have fun.”
Pease is very thankful for Fiser for many reasons. The biggest one, however, is the leadership she has demonstrated, especially when Pease was a newcomer last season. Pease came into Minnesota as a transfer after a season at Idaho State.
“It was one of the best things that ever happened to me,” Pease said. “Coming from a school where I wasn’t super into softball, I fell out of love for the game. Then, I come to a school with someone like Amber who is going to push you while you are at practice, while you are off the field. She has so much knowledge of the game that she shares with you, not only her, but Coach Ritter as well. It improves you as a softball player, a person and a teammate.”
Ritter knows each year is different. Minnesota didn’t get out to a hot start last season like it did in 2019 when it made it to the Women’s College World Series.
“All years are different,” Ritter said. “Us, as a team, we’re a different team. We were learning each other, learning how to be not the 2019 team, but the 2020 team. That, in itself, is probably why we had a slow start.”
Fiser and Pease form a solid pitching foundation. Throw in the bats of Natalie DenHartog and MaKenna Partain, and the pieces are still in place for Minnesota to be one of the best teams in softball again. And it doesn’t seem like there’s a better person out there to lead them than Piper Ritter.