Jen Walter is in her fourth season as head coach of the University of Minnesota Duluth softball team. The Bulldogs knew they were getting a proven winner and a highly-respected softball mind when they hired Walter three summers ago.
So far, so good.
Walter successfully took UMD back to the NCAA postseason tournament and took the club to new heights as the 2018 team concluded the season with a 44-16 record and the program's first-ever appearance into the NCAA Super Regionals. The 44 wins was most since joining the NCAA Division II ranks and along the way the Bulldogs literally rewrote most of the program's record book with 35 school records either tied or obliterated. In addition, the Bulldogs saw three new additions to their All-American list with Becky Smith, Hannah Schmoll and Natalie Wright all receiving nods during the magical season.
Walter became the fastest coach in program history to notch 100 victories. She reached the triple-digit mark, achieving it in 145 games passing her predecessor, Jen Banford, who needed 182 games.
In her three seasons at the controls of the Bulldog program, Walter has accumulated a 114-53 overall record while going 59-23 in league play. Two springs ago, UMD compiled a .974 fielding percentage -- the best figure in program history - - to rank 11th among all NCAA Division II clubs and put two juniors -- centerfielder Hannah Schmoll and second baseman Natalie Wright on the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Gold Glove Team. Wright also secured All-NSIC first team honors for the second year in a row in addition to joining five of her teammates (Schmoll, senior pitcher Sam Hartmann, sophomore pitcher Valerie Hohol, junior shortstop Becky Smith) as NSIC All-Academic Team qualifiers. Hartmann also landed herself a prestigious NSIC Myles Brand All-Academic with Distinction Award while Hohol, who maintains a perfect 4.00 earned the 2017 NSIC Elite 18 Award winner for softball.
Walter made quite the splash during her debut season at UMD as not only did the Bulldogs set a 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 equaled 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 directed the Saints to a 447-233 overall record (a .657 winning percentage), five NCAA Division III Tournament appearances (2006, 2011, 2012, 2014, and 2015), 15 Upper Midwest Athletic Conference regular season championships, 13 UMAC Tournament titles, and one trip 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 helped produce 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.
Ten 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).