It was around 4:30 a.m. Winter had silenced the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus. Amber Hegland and three other members of the women’s softball team, led by coach Lisa Bernstein, crept into the University Fieldhouse—a cavernous airplane hangar reserved for football practice. Inside, they spread out, scurried, craning their heads back and shouting to one another. Coach Bernstein was good at rocketing balls over the rafters of their regular training facility, and in the Fieldhouse she could pop fly balls into the pitch dark with ease.
Hegland was named an All-American athlete in 1996 and an Academic All-American in 1998. She was inducted into the University of Minnesota “M” Club Hall of Fame last October. Bernstein says “there could not be a more deserving student athlete.”
“Amber was the only person at the U of M that played every single position,” she adds—sans pitching.
Hegland still holds the University’s best all-time batting average, .399. She hit a record 60 doubles. In 2002, she was inducted into the Minnesota Softball Hall of Fame.
If you ask, Hegland will credit her parents, brothers and teammates—those other women back-and-forthing in the Fieldhouse. “My teammates made me look better than what I could be on my own,” she says.
In high school she also played football, volleyball, softball and golf, but her biggest passion was hockey.
Farmington didn’t have a girls hockey team. She proved herself during a week-long tryout and the school district let her play with the boys.
“It wasn’t about being a girl playing boys sports; It was about being a better me,” she says.
Graduation came. Hegland had scholarship opportunities: playing hockey for the only women's teams in the country, on the East Coast, or her pick of softball teams nationwide. She knew if she chose softball she wanted to be at the University of Minnesota, no question—for her family and for state pride. The University told her they would be adding a hockey team during her time there. If she wanted, she could play both. Her legacy, then, would be Minnesotan.
In her fifth eligible year, 1999, Hegland made captain of the Golden Gophers hockey team and tallied 35 points in 36 games. The team finished third at the national tournament.
Hegland started coaching at Wayzata High School in 2000, played elite hockey with the Minnesota Whitecaps from 2002 to 2006 and in 2015 started coaching the Maple Grove girls hockey team.
As a coach, Hegland recalls her team back in Farmington. “At the core was understanding that I was something small in something bigger.”