For longtime University of Minnesota, Morris head softball coach Heather Pennie, it was quite an offseason.
First off the 2011 Cougar softball season culminated with a record number of wins and a runner-up finish in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference standings, with Pennie earning UMAC Coach of the Year honors after leading UMM to a school record 15 conference wins.
Then on June 12 she was inducted into the Minnesota High School Fastpitch Coaches Association Hall of Fame, honoring her accomplishments as a high school athlete at Villard Public School (now consolidated with Minnewaska Area).
In her induction speech Pennie spoke of, and thanked, the many coaches and players that have influenced her career.
"I would like to extend my appreciation to Mr. Steve Hoffman, not only for nominating me for this award but for putting up with me for the two years that he was my coach. I would also like to thank Mr. Dave Dziengle for planting the seed for my love of softball. Yes, he was one of my High School coaches, but he was also out on the playground faithfully, every recess of my elementary days, ready to pitch to me and the boys. I am also indebted to Sheila Perkins for not only giving me the opportunity to continue my softball career but my volleyball career as well in college."
She also spoke of her unexpected entrance into the game, when watching her cousin's team play, she was suddenly asked to fill in as the team ran low on players at their tournament. Soon she was asked to return to the team weekly to play in the league.
It certainly worked out well as Pennie won a host of awards as a high school player, earning West Central All-Area, All-Region, All-District and West Central Conference MVP honors in each of her final two years, before landing on the All-State team as a senior.
She then went on to have an equally impressive career as a collegiate athlete, starring at Minnesota, Morris. Then competing in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, Pennie found herself on the All-Conference team in each her sophomore, junior and senior seasons, as well as the All-District team the same three years.
Continuing her lifetime in the game, she returned to UMM in 1998 as the head coach of the program for which she once starred. In recent years, her teams have been their best, setting record for wins in each of the last three seasons, and in 2011 Pennie guided senior Diane Blommel to All-Region honors, as well as Academic All-American laurels.
She was joined in induction with fellow players Michelle Bennett Sweeney of Hermantown and Kali Olstad of Plainview-Elgin-Milville, as well as coaches Ben Miller of Sauk Rapids-Rice, Charlie Gross of Delano, and Pam Hennen of Park Center.