Minnesota Golden Gophers second baseman MaKenna Partain approached this past spring as if it was her final college softball season, because that’s what it was supposed to be. As a senior, everything was “the last,” and she was making a point to savor it — until it was all taken away.

Partain said it was “gut-wrenching” to have what was supposed to be her final season cut short because of coronavirus concerns, adding she was “just bawling” when the coaches informed the team of the news.

But when the NCAA determined spring sports seniors could indeed return for another year, Partain wasn’t the first to jump at the opportunity — that was ace Amber Fiser. Then three other Gophers softball players committed to returning for another year, and everyone was waiting on Partain to do the same.

“I definitely wanted to see how everything turned out,” Partain said. “I was kind of working through some stuff on my own, trying to really figure out if this was what I wanted to do and if I could really put my heart and my soul into another year of softball and just be the best I could be for this team. I think I definitely wanted to make sure that I could give everything that Gopher softball deserved.”

For a long time, Partain was unsure if returning was right for her. Then long-time assistant coach Piper Ritter — who was on the staff that recruited Partain to the U — was named the program’s head coach, and the decision became a lot easier.

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“[That] just really pushed me to realize that I did want to play again. There was no doubt about it once I realized she was head coach,” said Partain, who’s also excited about the potential assistant coaches who may join Ritter’s staff. “Just seeing her be the head coach, someone who’s so deserving of it and who loves Gopher softball so much, I think, just really made me believe in everything Minnesota sports in general believes in, too.”

Partain made her decision to return official Monday.

She admits there was a lot of pressure for her to return to the program. Mainly, people wanted to see her play one more season. One of the team’s best hitters, Partain has been a staple in the team’s lead-off spot. Her .375 career batting average is fifth-best in program history, and she has scored 185 runs, placing her No. 3 on the program’s all-time list.

“You want to make them happy, because they’re so supportive and they’ve done so much for us, as well, so you want to give them another season that they’re excited about, the best chance for Gopher softball,” Partain said.

But she had to do what was right for her, so she stepped back from social media and avoided outside noise. Partain sat down with those close to her and took the time to figure out her next move.

“I finally came to the conclusion and I knew I couldn’t pass up another opportunity to play for Gopher softball,” Partain said.

She’s looking forward to having her own Senior Night — a tradition she’s enjoyed for years — as well as the chance to go out in proper fashion with the class of seniors with which she’s endured so much.

“It’s going to be a fun time. I’m super excited,” Partain said. “I think we got a little lost last year, and I don’t think we showed just how good we can be, so I’m really excited for this next season, for sure.”