Former Gopher MVP Has Turned Around Softball Fortunes at St. Catherine

Former Gopher MVP Has Turned Around Softball Fortunes at St. Catherine Photo: Courtesy St. Catherine Sports Information

May 12, 2017 09:04 AM

Colleen Powers enjoys a challenge.

It's why two years ago, the former Benilde-St. Margaret's and University of Minnesota softball standout entered and completed her first Ironman Triathlon.

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"I love creating my own goals," said Powers, who was a team captain and MVP during her time with the Gophers from 2005 to 2008.

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"I like giving myself some type of finish line to pursue."

That's a big part of what drew her to St. Catherine University, where she took over as head softball coach in 2014 after two seasons as the head coach at Lakeville South High School, and stints as a college assistant at West Texas A&M and Central Michigan.

"It was a chance to really build something," she said. "To put my own mark on a program."

The Wildcats hadn't exactly been synonymous with success over the years.

In fact, between 1992-98, St. Catherine won a grand total of one game - going winless in six out of seven of those seasons.

Between 1989 and 2013, the team finished with a winning record only twice - in 2006 and 2007. The school's only appearance in the MIAC playoffs came in 2013 when every conference school made the postseason after weather wreaked havoc on the regular-season schedule.

All that has changed, however.

St. Catherine went just 8-25 in Powers' first season in 2014, but that record improved to 28-10 the following year.

It marked a school record for wins that the Wildcats surpassed with a 34-11 finish last season. And the school also made its first appearance in the NCAA Division III tournament.

The team boasts a record of 32-11 this spring. And after knocking off Hamline 6-2 to win the MIAC tournament last Sunday, St. Catherine is back in the NCAA playoffs.

The Wildcats face the University of Chicago at 1 p.m. Friday, as part of a regional at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.

"It's been a building process," said Powers, who picked up her 100th career victory earlier this month. "2015 was the first season in which we'd never been run-ruled in a single game. And that was a big deal. It's just little things like that which have all been part of helping us get to the next level."

And St. Catherine is certainly there now.

The victory over Hamline represented the school's first MIAC playoff title - not just in softball, but any sport. St. Catherine has only won three other conference team titles of any kind, in volleyball (regular season) in 1983, in tennis in 2013 and golf last fall.

"My freshman year, you could tell we were the definite underdogs," said junior pitcher Krista Flugstad, a Bloomington Jefferson graduate who is 23-4 on the mound this season with a 1.12 ERA and 135 strikeouts.

"A lot of teams came in and you could tell they thought it wasn't going to be a very hard game. But after a few games that year, I think they realized things were changing."

Flugstad credits Powers for helping make that change a reality.

"The coaching staff was definitely a big part of why I came here," she said. "I played against Coach Powers for a section title in high school and I saw her coaching style. How much she loved her players and loved the game.

"She knows how to push us and she knows how to coach us each individually. She knows what each player will respond to."

The Wildcats reached the regional final last season, and they're aiming even higher this time around.

But with no seniors on this season's roster, the future appears bright as well.

"We did an exercise with the entire team this year," Powers said. "We had them sit down class-by-class and write down all the things the program had never done until their class got here.

"Obviously the juniors had a long list and the sophomores had a long list. But even the freshmen came up with a bunch of things we hadn't done as of nine months ago.

"We've just been lucky enough to get a lot of players who wanted to come in here and build something. They wanted to go somewhere where they could create their own tradition. And that's what we've been doing."

Credits

Frank Rajkowski

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