Sydney Smith’s college softball career will come full circle this weekend, when the senior pitcher’s present collides with her past.
The Maple Grove grad and No. 2 pitcher for the No. 7-seeded Gophers spent her first two college seasons at LSU. Smith went 25-11 during her freshman and sophomore seasons in Baton Rouge, sporting a 1.65 earned-run average in those two years as the Tigers’ third-most utilized arm.
Smith said she “matured a lot” during those two seasons.
“I think it was definitely an experience to kind of figure out who I was and what I wanted to be,” she said. “I think I matured on the field. I had to grow up pretty fast. … Those two years definitely kind of shaped me and taught me who I really wanted to be and how to stand up for myself and have a voice.”
Following her sophomore season, Smith decided to transfer and had a good idea of where she wanted to go: home. She arrived at Minnesota as a junior and has served as a valuable member of the Gophers’ pitching staff.
There’s a decent chance Smith could be in the circle at some point this weekend when the Gophers (44-12) take on 10th-seeded Louisiana State (43-17) in a Super Regional at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium —
battling her former team in the best-of-three series.
Smith still talks to a few of her former teammates. But her current focus is on the here and now, helping Minnesota try to reach the program’s first Women’s College World Series.
She admitted transferring is “always kind of a scary thing,” because you don’t know if your next landing spot will be a good fit. But Minnesota has been just that for the senior hurler.
“I couldn’t be more happy being here,” Smith said. “Being somewhere that I’ve lived the majority of my life and being around people that are so awesome, I think it’s a good way to spend the rest of your career.”
Smith said she didn’t realize how much she missed Minnesota until she returned. She’s relished the chance to compete with and in front of familiar faces. Asked how to describe her junior and senior campaigns, Smith said, “amazing.”
“The school is awesome, team is awesome, coaches are awesome,” said Smith, who graduated with a degree in business and marketing education and has an internship lined up with Minnesota Fastpitch Academy softball. “I couldn’t ask for a better two years to end playing college softball. I think it was all meant to be this way, and I think coming to Minnesota has really shaped me into who I want to be in the future.”
Smith is 13-5 this season with a 2.48 earned-run average. She played a major role in the Gophers earning their national seed and likely will have a say in how far their season extends.
But just as important as her on-the-field contributions is the mentality she’s helped deliver in the dugout.
“She’s just brought this demeanor about her that is very laid back and relaxed, but also super confident,” senior outfielder Maddie Houlihan said. “She works hard every single day in practice, and she’s a teammate that everyone loves to have. I’m really, really honored that she graduated alongside me and that we get to share these last two years together. She’s a very special person.”
Part of that can be credited to Smith’s time at LSU. She said that experience helped shape her into the teammate and player she is today.
Smith’s Tigers reached the World Series in both of her two seasons at LSU. She believes this Gophers team can do the same, noting the team’s balance across the board.
“You can’t ask for a better way to end your career than in Oklahoma City, so hopefully that’s where we end up,” Smith said. “We’ve already accomplished so much as a team, and we’re not done yet. I think just being a senior, it kind of makes it a little more exciting, because that’s the end goal, to end up at Oklahoma City.”