Ninners and six returning starters, the 2007 Hawkeyes have the potential to make some serious noise during the season.
“Both the coaches and players are excited for the season to start,” Blevins said. “This team is capable of accomplishing many goals throughout the year.”
Blevins said the combination of youth and experience on the 2007 squad creates a high-energy team with a lot of potential.
“We return a ton of game experience and have a big chunk of our lineup returning,” Blevins said. “We also have talented underclassmen who have a chance to be solid contributors. People might think we have a young team, but our youth is offset by our experience. We could do a lot of good things this season.”
Sophomore Brittany Weil will lead the pitching staff after an impressive freshman campaign. The Garden Grove, CA, native was a third team all-Big Ten selection in 2006 and is already etching her name in the Hawkeye record books. Weil ranks second in single-season innings pitched and complete games, and third in games pitched and strikeouts. Additionally, she already is eighth on the career strikeout list.
“Brittany had a great freshman season,” Blevins said. “She will once again be a major contributor and has proven is equal to the task.”
The Hawkeyes have three other pitchers on staff, including junior Stephanie Ackerson. Ackerson is listed as the starting first baseman, but has seven appearances in her first two seasons at Iowa.
“Steph has worked really hard, both pitching and at first base.” Blevins said.
“Katie and Amanda offer totally different styles of pitching,” Blevins said. “We have a larger staff and I think everyone will be able to fill roles. Our challenge will be to determine how best to utilize our entire staff. We are excited about the possibilities.”
The Hawkeye catching corp consists of senior Sami Baugh and junior Emily Nichols. Baugh has been a solid starter in her career and Blevins feels she will be even better in her senior campaign.
Nichols has also shared catching responsibilities but her defensive presence expanded to third base last season for the Hawkeyes. Blevins said Nichols, who is projected to spend a significant amount of time at third base in 2007, would be catching more if she wasn’t needed at third base.
“We have two great catchers in Sami and Emily,” Blevins said. “Sami does a good job communicating with our pitchers and we believe she will take her game to another level this year, which is our challenge for her. Emily is by far the most versatile athlete in our program, playing at three totally different positions. This year we need her to anchor third base, which is where we project her to be. At any time, she could catch and provide us with what we need. We are very fortunate to have Sami and Emily.
"Both the coaches and players are excited for the season to start. This team is capable of accomplishing many goals throughout the year."
Head Coach Gayle Blevins
The Hawkeye infield is loaded with returning experience, despite being young. Coach Blevins returns three starting infielders from last year, although some are going through position changes.
Ackerson returns at first base after being named the team’s Golden Glove award winner in 2006. She tallied an impressive .997 fielding percentage and started 54 of 61 games as a sophomore.
“Steph is very solid for us at first base,” Blevins said. “Anytime you can have someone with that high of fielding percentage for you at first base, your infield has confidence that plays are going to be made.”
Freshman Lindsey Digmann will get the nod at second base. Digmann, who played shortstop in high school, was a three-time first team all-state selection and is having no trouble adapting to the position change.
Sophomore Erin Riemersma will move from second base to shortstop. Riemersma was a third team all-Big Ten pick last season and Blevins said she is already assuming the leadership position at shortstop.
“Erin really developed last season, both offensively and defensively,” Blevins said. “She also brings a special type of energy to the field. Erin is a great competitor for us. She has already showed her leadership by helping Lindsey adjust to second base. Erin is a fun player to watch. Erin and Lindsey’s speed will allow us to be quick up the middle.”
Nichols will see the majority of time at third base after starting 42 contests at the hot corner last season. She led the team with 42 RBI and 14 doubles, and is one of Iowa’s leaders at the plate.
“I’m impressed with how quickly Emily adjusted to third base,” Blevins said. “She had never really played the position before last year and she has turned in to a solid glove for us at third. This comes as no surprise. Emily is a great athlete with many tools.”
Summer Downs could also see some time at third and first, but will primarily be Iowa’s designated player. Downs had a breakout conference season in 2006 and was a first team all-Big Ten honoree.
“Summer is such a good athlete,” Blevins said. “We need to get runners on in front of Summer, because we know that she can put runs across the plate. Summer has a calm, determined approach to RBI situations.”
Sophomore Colleen McGlaughlin could also play at third base along with left field. McGlaughlin was named the team’s Most Improved Player in 2006 and has made big strides at the plate in the offseason.
“Colleen has the potential to be a dangerous weapon at the plate,” Blevins said. “She is a smart hitter who makes pitchers work. Colleen demonstrates a great mental approach to hitting.”
The Hawkeyes will have to replace two starters from last year’s outfield, but return plenty of experience and add depth in 2007.
Senior Mindy Heidgerken returns in center field after starting every game last season. Heidgerken was a third team all-Big Ten selection and Blevins is looking for Heidgerken to lead the outfield in 2007.
“Mindy will be a major leader in the outfield this season,” Blevins said. “She needs to take charge of the outfield for us and help the other outfielders evaluate situations. Mindy has worked hard at getting better physically as well. We need her to perform at a high level for us this season and she is more than capable of doing this.”
Blevins has numerous options in left field. McGlaughlin, along with senior Jenna Spratt and sophomore Rachel West will vy for playing time in left field. Both McGlaughlin and Spratt offer different offensive and defensive strengths. West’s role was reduced to pinch-running last season after she underwent shoulder surgery in the fall. Spratt has three years of experience roaming the outfield. Right field looks to be handled by sophomore Quinn Morelock. Additional outfielders competing for playing time are sophomores Lindsey Emery and Callie Adreon along with freshman Taylor Leichsenring.
“We have numerous options in our outfield,” Blevins said. “Preseason will allow us to see how far some people have come in their development and how well they play together. Additionally, we will always be looking at offensive contributors from our outfielders. Decisions regarding playing time will be based on a combination of these factors.”
Iowa will play at least 29 games before returning to the friendly confines of Pearl Field.
The Hawkeyes open play at the Stetson Invitational before traveling to the Littlewood Classic, hosted by Arizona State, who qualified for the College World Series last season. They will then travel to the Red and Black Tournament in Louisville and then return to the Buzz Classic in Atlanta, where they claimed the 2005 tournament title. Iowa set school records for home runs in a game (7) and total bases (36), while Emily Nichols shattered school records for home runs (3), RBI (8) and total bases (12) in a game at the 2005 Buzz Classic. Nichols was named the 2005 Buzz Classic Most Valuable Player.
Iowa then will make its annual spring break trip to California to compete in the National Invitational Softball Tournament in Sunnyvale, where they will face perennial power California, and the Capital Classic in Sacramento, before returning home on March 23 for the Hawkeye Classic.
The Big Ten will once again be loaded with talent. Northwestern returns the majority of its squad that advanced to the national championship series last season and Iowa will have to face the Wildcats in Evanston. Michigan also returns most of its squad that advanced to the super regional round of the NCAA Tournament.
“One of our goals this season is to start faster and to build off this start,” Blevins said. “We need to be better prepared for our first games. We have some tough pre-conference opponents in Arizona State and California, and tournaments like the Buzz Classic will give us good matchups. We also have some tough road trips during the conference season and it’s always a challenge to win on the road in the Big Ten. Being consistent in our approach will lead to success in 2007.”