Minnesota State is defending its 2017 national championship in dominant fashion. The Mavericks are a perfect 9-0 as they embark on a five-day, 10-game road trip to Clermont, Florida for the NTC Spring Games.

The Mavericks lost a few key pieces from that championship run, but brought in a talented freshman class to continue their winning ways. Five of those freshmen -- Rae Dose, Hannah Hastings, Morgan Keim-Wolfe, Torey Richards, and Lexi Schoper -- grew up in Mankato, Minnesota. There, they began their softball careers, playing together on youth teams, before being separated into high school rivals at Mankato East and Mankato West.

They also grew up watching Mavericks softball, yearning for the day that it was their turn to don the purple and gold.

Richards and Schoper have made the biggest impact of the freshman class thus far. Richards, who plays shortstop, is hitting .393 with 10 RBI. Schoper is still looking for her first win, but has pitched needed innings out of the bullpen with a new look pitching staff. NCAA.com caught up with both to see what it's been like transitioning from youthful Mavericks fan, to high school rivals, to once again teammates for the top team in DII softball. 

NCAA.com: So what's it like having teammates you just spent the last four years playing against?

Lexi Schoper: It's definitely cool to play with everyone again. We played with each other growing up through the Peppers Association. It's super cool to come together and be on the field [on the same team] again.

Torey Richards: Yeah, there was always [a rivalry] on the field. Once we got off the field, we tried to go back to being friends. We grew up together, so we've always had a good relationship with each other.

NCAA: You have been surrounded by Mavericks softball your entire lives. Was there ever any question that you would come to Minnesota State?

Richards is hitting .393 as an everyday starter to begin her Mavericks career.
Minnesota State Athletics
Richards is hitting .393 as an everyday starter to begin her Mavericks career.
TR: Ever since I was really young, I’ve been coming to MSU camps. I always wanted to play here and be a part of the team. I’ve seen a lot of girls come through this program. They are girls I looked up to, and I know there’s a winning culture and that’s something I wanted to be a part of.

LS: It’s the same. I grew up watching them and coming to the games. I always wanted to be in the purple and gold uniform.

NCAA: Lexi, Mankato East alum and Minnesota State legend Coley Ries (who went 41-3 with five saves, 476 strikeouts and a 1.05 ERA on the Mavericks 2017 title run) is now on the coaching staff. What's it like having that experience as a coach?

LS: It’s super cool having her on the coaching staff. She’s teaching all the pitchers everything that she knows. I’ve always looked up to her, so it’s cool to now have her as a coach. 

NCAA: Even though she went to your rival high school, you're ok with that?

LS: Yeah (laughs).

NCAA: As freshmen having watched this program over the years, what kind of expectations are placed on you coming into such a winning culture?

Schoper is one of five MSU freshmen who grew up watching Mavericks softball in Mankato.
Minnesota State Athletics
Schoper is one of five MSU freshmen who grew up watching Mavericks softball in Mankato.
LS: Obviously, it’s hard to live up to what they did last year. Coming into each practice and knowing the expectation is to work hard, it’s cool to have that winning reputation.

TR: I know last year they lost a lot of seniors that did a lot of big things for the program. Those are some big shoes to fill. Working towards that goal again is really going to help us.

NCAA: Speaking of losing seniors, Torey, you are part of a really young lineup. That must be an exciting thing to be a part of, no?

TR: Yeah, we have a lot of good hitters that are underclassmen. As we progress and get older that’s just going to continue to help us develop as a team.

NCAA: You're now a Mavericks softball player. What's it really mean to you to finally get to wear the Minnesota State uniform every week?

LS: Growing up watching them and looking up to everyone wearing the Mavericks jersey was so cool. Now being able to wear it is such an honor to represent my hometown and the Mavericks overall.

TR: It means so much. I’ve wanted to be a Maverick for as long as I can remember. Growing up here, I know that now that I’m in this position, there’s a lot of girls in Mankato that are working hard and want to be in that position when they grow up. That means a lot to me that I get to do that.

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NCAA: Now an important question. Who's your favorite athlete?

LS: Jennie Finch.

TR: Kobe Bryant.

NCAA: So Torey, are the Lakers your favorite team?

TR: No, I still love the Timberwolves.

LS: I like the Timberwolves, too, but I'm a Lebron [James] fan, so no Kobe.

Alas, it appears the rivalry still continues.

Wayne Cavadi is in his third year covering all things Division II sports for NCAA.com. In the “offseason”, he covers the Atlanta Braves minor league system for FanRag Sports and SB Nation’s Minor League Ball. His work has appeared on Bleacher Report, MLB.com, AJC.com and FoxSports.com.