Softball: Brainerd's Ceynowa heads to Regionals with Gophers
Clare Ceynowa is a junior at the University of Minnesota softball team which plays in Regionals this weekend.
MINNEAPOLIS — Clare Ceynowa is finally back on the field.
After three seasons not playing due to a pandemic and injuries, the 2020 Brainerd graduate is the backup catcher for the Minnesota Golden Gopher softball team which finds itself in the NCAA Tournament for the 10th consecutive season — the longest active streak in the Big Ten.
Ceynowa and the Gophers play in the Seattle Regional with their first game in the double-elimination tournament against McNeese Friday, May 19.
“It’s really fun to play at this high level and with women who want to succeed,” she said. “This is the only time in our lives that this many people are working toward the same goal. It’s a good program and a good culture we’ve created and we are just able to compete at a high level. Personally, I’ve had ups and downs with freshman year being COVID and last year being injured — so it’s been a little bit of a roller coaster for me, but I’m back and better than ever. I’m really excited. We are going to do some great things in Regionals.”
It’s Ceynowa's third year as a Gopher, but the first two seasons didn’t quite go as planned.
Ceynowa committed to the University of Minnesota prior to her senior season at Brainerd High School. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, she never got to see the field for her senior season in a Warrior uniform.
Her freshman year with the Gophers was similar as she estimated she was quarantined around eight times during her first collegiate season.
After not seeing the field in 2021 for the Gophers, Ceynowa suffered injuries that set her back in 2022. She was sidelined all of her second season with the Gophers and hoped to return after surgery in November.
“It really did feel like I missed three years,” she said. “I missed my senior year in high school due to COVID. Then my freshman year here was still COVID and got quarantined I think maybe eight different times depending on the situation and that was hard mentally and physically — coming into a new program and having the pandemic on top of it. Sophomore year, I got injured and wasn’t able to practice or play and was in chronic pain, but I really leaned on my teammates and they lifted me up and kept me going. I was finally able to have surgery and came out this year strong. It’s definitely been a journey, but I learned so much along the way — especially about perseverance.”
Ceynowa finally made her collegiate debut when she came in as a pinch runner and scored the game-winning run for the Gophers in a 2-1 win over Virginia on Feb. 19.
“I practiced my freshman year and I just wasn’t ready yet,” Ceynowa said. “Between missing my senior year and jumping to Division I, there was definitely a learning curve. It was great though. I’ve learned so much and even though I was injured last year, I was still taking the mental reps. I was doing stand-in at-bats and doing everything I could to keep my mental game sharp when I couldn’t practice.”
Ceynowa got her first plate appearance against Texas A&M Commerce on Feb. 24. She drew a walk.
On March 10, she recorded her first collegiate hit against Idaho State. It was a two-run home run to help the Gophers secure a 9-0 win.
“It was a really great moment,” Ceynowa said. “It felt like everything I’ve been working for between COVID and injuries and rehab and surgery it felt like I finally made it and proved myself and beat all this adversity I’ve had and provided for my team. I would have been happy with any hit. It just so happened that it went over the fence. It was great because my family was there as well and they’ve been my biggest supporters.”
Warrior fans got used to Ceynowa hitting it over the fence as she graduated as the all-time leader in home runs for the program.
Ceynowa’s second collegiate hit came recently. In a Big Ten contest against Michigan May 6, Ceynowa got an at-bat as a pinch hitter with the bases loaded and the score tied 10-10 in the fourth inning. Ceynowa ripped a single which scored the go-ahead run for the Gophers on their way to a 13-10 win — their 10th straight win.
“It was great,” Ceynowa said. “We train every day and put ourselves in those positions, so we feel less pressure at the moment. I just trusted my training and pinch-hit opportunities are one of the hardest in the game, so I just stuck with what I’ve been working for and found a way to make something happen.”
Ceynowa has appeared in 11 games and gone 2-for-5 with a walk, a home run, three RBIs, two runs scored and a hit by pitch.
Despite being the backup catcher, Ceynowa said she’s seen her game improve drastically since being in high school.
“I have a great player in front of me in Taylor Krapf, who is a transfer from Duke,” Ceynowa said. “She is a great friend and also a great player who was First Team All-Big Ten and hit 14 home runs. I’m the backup for her, but I’ve still been working hard to get any opportunity I can. I got the go-ahead hit against Michigan the other day and then the next day I took one right off the arm — so I’m looking to get on base any way I can.
“I was talking to my dad the other day about how if I knew as much as I do now in high school I could’ve done some crazy stuff. Looking back, I barely knew anything about the game. The way we break it down here, I mean, we spend 25 minutes on baserunning reads and just things you don’t think about when you are younger. It’s been great to grow in that sense and just looking back at my injuries and COVID I haven’t been able to play at my full potential since November and I’ve grown exponentially since then.”
Ceynowa kept a close eye on her alma mater last year as they finished second in the Class 4A State Tournament. Her younger sister, Maren, is currently a junior for the Warriors.
Ceynowa also stays involved with the Warriors by doing weekly online meetings with the players.
“I’ve been able to make some games when they've played closer to the U,” she said. “They’ve been fun to watch. Last year, they did great and had their aces and this year they are killing it, too. I actually get to meet with them weekly through my mental strength coaching business, so I actually do Zooms with them once a week to help them through mental blocks and work through different things as a team. I’ve been really connected to them, especially this year. I owe a lot to Brainerd and a lot to the softball program in particular. It’s where I came from and where I grew and partially where I found my love for softball. So to be able to give back to them and give them tools I wish I had at a younger age and watch them grow is really great and a lot of fun.”
Through the ups and downs of her first three seasons, Ceynowa made it clear — she loves being a Gopher.
“It’s great,” Ceynowa said. “I couldn’t ask for better girls next to me to push me in practice. It’s been great to lean on them when you have a tough day and pump you up when you have the best day. It’s been really fun, especially the winning streak and the way we’ve been performing. It’s fun to be a part of.”
Team: Minnesota Gophers
High School: Brainerd, 2020
Season Stats: She’s appeared in 11 games and gone 2-for-5 with a home run, three RBIs, two runs scored, a walk and a hit by pitch.
Next Game: Minnesota plays in the NCAA Tournament in the Seattle Regional May 19-21
CONRAD ENGSTROM may be reached at 218-855-5861 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/the_rad34.