The University of Minnesota Duluth knew they were getting a proven winner and a highly-respected softball mind when they hired Jen Walter as its head coach in the summer of 2015.
So far, so good.
In her somewhat short time at the UMD helm, Walter has directed the Bulldogs to a 147-75 overall record, a 81-31 mark in Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference play, and three NCAA II Tournament berths. In addition, she has helped produce three All-Americans, four different All-Regional selections and eight All-NSIC picks (headlined by three-time honorees Hannah Schmoll, Becky Smith and Natalie Wright). Her Bulldogs have also taken care of business in the classroom during that time as well, earning NSIC All-Academic Team distinction 20 times and NFCA Scholar-Athlete Award status on 23 occasions. Both Smith (third team in 2018) and Valerie Hohol (second in 2018) were UMD's first two CoSida Academic All-Americans while Hohol was the 2017 NSIC Elite 18 Award recipient.
Last spring, Walter's troops established a program record for NSIC wins by going 22-8 against conference competition while securing a second straight invitation to the NCAA II playoffs.
That came one year after she took UMD to new heights as the Bulldogs concluded the season with a 44-16 record and the program's first-ever appearance into the NCAA II Super Regionals. In the process, UMD set or equaled some 35 school records and added additions to their All-American list in Smith, Hannah Schmoll and Natalie Wright. That same spring, Walter became the fastest coach in the program's storied history to post 100 victories. She reached the triple-digit mark, achieving it in 145 games to the previous holder of the milestone mark, UMD Athletic Hall of Famer Bill Haller, who needed 147 outings to do so.
Walter made quite the splash during her debut season at UMD as not only did the Bulldogs establish a then-team record for NSIC victories by finishing 21-7 (good for a second-place finish and just one game back of league champion Minnesota State University-Mankato), but they returned to the NCAA Division II Tournament for the first time since 2012. Along they way, they amassed a 35-17 overall mark and shattered or matched nearly one dozen team and individual records.
On July 22, 2015, Walter signed on as just UMD's third head softball coach since the 1981-82 season. Walter certainly had proven herself the previous 16 seasons right down the road at the College of St. Scholastica, having seen her Saints go 447-233 in all games (for a .657 winning percentage), make five NCAA Division III Tournament appearances (2006, 2011, 2012, 2014, and 2015), win 15 Upper Midwest Athletic Conference regular season championships and another 13 UMAC Tournament titles, and pay one visit to the NAIA National Tournament (2004). During Walter's tenure, CSS also eclipsed the 30-victory plateau on seven occasions and failed to reach the .500 mark only three times (including in two of her initial three seasons).
In addition, Walter coached three CSS All-Americans -- Laura Heise (2004 and 2006), Erica Kozacek (2006) and Rilee Dawson (2007) – 11 UMAC Player of the Year award recipients, 43 All-Region selections, 71 All-UMAC picks, and 81 National Fastpitch Coaches Association Scholar-Athletes.
In 2004, the Saints received their first-ever national ranking, peaking at No. 13 in the NAIA poll. The program aligned with the NCAA the following spring and CSS just missed out on a NCAA III Tournament invitation (despite going 34-7 overall), but did receive the school's first bid to that event in 2006.
A native of Wadena, Minn., Walter played two years of softball at Golden Valley Lutheran College in Minneapolis, where she was a National Junior College Athletic Association All-American catcher, and continued her collegiate career at Augustana College (S.D.), attaining All-North Central Conference honors as a senior in 1985. She went on to serve as the head softball coach at Perham High School (1989-91) and the assistant softball coach at both the Breck School (1991-97) and Robbinsdale Armstrong High School (1997-99).
Inducted as player into the 2010 Minnesota High School Fastpitch Coaches Association Hall of Fame, Walter received a B.A. degree in health, physical education and recreation from Augustana in 1986.
Eleven years ago, Walter earned Master Coach status from the National Fastpitch Coaches Association and she continues to evolve as an educator and a coach by participating in the Women Coaches Academy (co-sponsored by the Winstar Foundation and the NCAA).