UMD softball returns to NCAA tourney, becoming sixth Bulldogs team to receive an NCAA bid in 2022-23

UMD softball is in back in the Division II tourney for the first time since 2019, joining volleyball, women's cross country, women's hockey and men's and women's basketball in receiving NCAA bids

college women play softball outdoors
Kendal Jenkins (4) of Minnesota Duluth hits the ball against Winona State at Malosky Stadium on April 14 in Duluth.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — Minnesota Duluth senior catcher Sidney Zavoral, one of two seniors on UMD’s softball team, has never played in an NCAA tournament before.

None of her current teammates has either, but Zavoral has heard about it from previous teammates.

That will change Thursday when the seventh-seeded Bulldogs (40-11) take on second-seeded and host Missouri Southern State (40-14) of the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association at 2 p.m. CDT in their NCAA Division II Central Region opener in Joplin, Missouri.

No. 3 Rogers State of the MIAA (43-12) and No. 6 Southern Arkansas (41-13) of the Great American Conference (GAC) are also part of UMD’s double-elimination regional pod in Joplin.

For the Bulldogs, this is their first NCAA tournament berth since going back-to-back in 2018 and 2019, and reaching three regionals in four seasons between 2016 and 2019. Zavoral said she and her teammates are “over the moon” to have the program back in the national tournament this week.


UMD softball team watches NCAA selection show
The Minnesota Duluth softball team watches the NCAA tournament selection show on Monday at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.
Matt Wellens / Duluth News Tribune

“It's a super cool experience, and we're really excited to get on that flight to go there,” Zavoral said Monday morning after watching the NCAA tournament selection show with her teammates at a watch party at Amsoil Arena. “We're going to represent well, and we can't wait to do that.”

This is the Bulldogs’ 10th NCAA tournament appearance. Only once, back in 2018, has UMD made it out of the regional pod to the best-of-three super regional series.

UMD is the lone bid from the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference this season after winning the league’s postseason title this past weekend in Rochester, Minnesota. After getting swept at home on the final weekend of the regular season by Augustana to lose the conference regular season title by a game to the Vikings, the Bulldogs went 4-0 at the NSIC tournament — shutting out the Vikings twice — to win the league’s postseason title and capture an automatic NCAA tourney bid.

The Bulldogs’ 9-0 win on Sunday over Augustana gave the program its first NSIC tournament title since 2002.

“The sky is the limit for this team. Really, it is,” said second-year Bulldogs coach Lynn Anderson, who was hired in September 2021 after Jen Walter left to become an assistant at NCAA Division I St. Thomas. “Maybe they don't have the experience of some other teams in the postseason, but that doesn't mean that you can rule us out. I think there's a lot of heart. There's a lot of hunger in our team.

“This experience can be really great, especially going into next year. We have a lot of players coming back, so it's really meaningful to have this moment right now with our team, because when we head into next year, they're going to know what that feels like. They’ll be hungry to come back for more.”

The 2023 Bulldogs have nine juniors, three sophomores and six freshmen in addition to the two seniors. They’re led by NSIC Pitcher of the Year Lauren Dixon, a junior, who enters the NCAA tournament with a 1.48 earned run average and 219 strikeouts in 161-plus innings. She is 21-4 in 26 starts with 11 shutouts.

Dixon was one of five Bulldogs named to All-NSIC teams this season. Joining her on the first team was Zavoral and sophomore infielder Nicole Schmitt. Junior outfielder Kat Burkhardt and junior infielder Kiana Bender were second-team all-conference selections.


Dixon, Zavoral, Burkhardt and Bender all landed on the NSIC all-tournament team last weekend, as well as junior pitcher Corrie Weise, after UMD outscored the opposition 19-1 in Rochester.

“We got a lot left in the tank. I don't think we're done yet,” said Bender, who is one of five players from Northeastern Minnesota and Northwestern Wisconsin on this year’s team along with freshman outfielder Hanna Hovland of Duluth, junior outfielder Dea Deleon of Esko, senior pitcher Mady Stariha of Superior and sophomore pitcher Allison Luoma of Iron River, Wisconsin. “I don't think regionals or the people in regionals know what we can bring to the table.”

The regional in Joplin is scheduled to run through Saturday, pending any weather delays. The winner of the four-team pod in Joplin will take on the winner of the other four-team Central Region pod in a best-of-three super regional series that begins on May 18 at the higher seed. The eight super regional winners advance to the national tournament May 25-31 in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The Bulldogs’ softball program is the sixth UMD team to receive a bid to an NCAA tournament or meet this season, joining volleyball, women’s cross country, women’s hockey and men’s and women’s basketball. Women’s hockey was one win away from the NCAA Division I Frozen Four, men’s basketball reached the NCAA Division II Elite Eight and women’s basketball played for the NCAA Division II national championship in Dallas.

UMD softball junior infielder Elle Potts said it has been a special year for Bulldogs athletics.

“The energy among the UMD athletes has just been great this year. We've all been supporting each other so much,” Potts said. “When both basketballs made it far, everyone was so excited for them. Just to see them be so excited for us, it's just awesome. All the athletes have really come together and bonded this year. It's been great to see everyone doing great, making it far and being happy for all the Bulldogs.”

This story originally left out volleyball among the UMD teams to receive a bid to an NCAA tournament or national meet in 2022-23. It was updated at 6:52 p.m. with the correct number of teams to receive bids. The News Tribune regrets the error.

Co-host of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and college hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune and The Rink Live covering the Minnesota Duluth men's and women's hockey programs.
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