2006 Softball Preview

Feb. 8, 2006

IOWA CITY – University of Iowa softball coach Gayle Blevins is expecting big things from her 2006 squad. With seven starters and 11 returning letterwinners from the 2005 team that ended the season with a 50-14 record, Blevins and the Hawkeyes have their sights set on Oklahoma City.

“We have improved in many aspects of the game since last season,” Blevins said. “We have greater depth, we are better defensively and we have the potential to be a very good hitting team.”

Blevins is excited about many different possibilities both on the field and in the batting order. The Hawkeyes have seven freshmen who could all make an impact.

“I’m really excited about the makeup of our team,” Blevins said. “We have a lot of younger players who gained experience last season along with a solid group of both freshmen and upperclassmen.”

The Hawkeyes will have to replace Lisa Birocci, Iowa’s all-time career strikeout leader, inside the circle. Ali Arnold returns for her senior season and is making her mark on the record books as well. She currently ranks sixth on the all-time strikeout list after compiling a 21-5 record with 209 K’s last season. Arnold recorded her first career no-hitter against Rhode Island last season and is ready to lead the team inside the circle in 2006.

Senior Ali Arnold will lead the Hawkeyes in the circle this season.

Freshman Brittany Weil will also see action for the Hawkeyes this season. Weil, from Garden Grove, CA, was the Orange County Player of Year and L.A. Times Pitcher of the Year. She also led her ASA team to back-to-back top 10 finishes at the ASA National Tournament.

“When you look at our graduating players from last season, we definitely took a hit in the pitching department,” Blevins said. “The good thing is Ali returns as a seasoned pitcher. Ali and Brittany are a good combination and will be a great 1-2 punch.”

Iowa returns both catchers from the 2005 team. Junior Sami Baugh and sophomore Emily Nichols split time behind the plate last season and the plan is to do the same in 2006. Baugh batted .271 with 21 RBI while Nichols enjoyed a breakout freshman campaign. She set the single-season home run record, blasting 16 home runs and tallied a team best 49 RBI. Nichols only needs 13 more home runs to become Iowa’s all-time home run leader.

“It’s nice to have options behind the plate,” Blevins said. “Both Sami and Emily are solid both defensively and offensively. It’s great to know we have the opportunity to use each one in different situations.”

The Hawkeye infield will see some changes along with some regulars in 2006. Iowa returns three players who all started at first base last year. Sophomore Steph Ackerson, senior Brandi Sargent and Nichols all saw time at first base in 2005.

“Steph, Brandi or Emily could start at first on any given day,” Blevins said. “Steph has made tremendous strides since last season and both Brandi and Emily are very solid players. Once again, it’s nice to have options.”

Freshman Erin Riemersma is the leading candidate at second base. Riemersma is a natve of Orland Park, IL and was a Chicago-Sun Times all-area selection. Coach Blevins is excited about Riemersma’s potential at second base.

“Our schedule is extremely difficult,” Blevins said. “We are playing some tough tournaments with high-level talent across the board. Playing tournaments like these will only help our team prepare for an even tougher Big Ten schedule.”
Head Coach Gayle Blevins

“Erin is a very instinctive player,” Blevins said. “She gives 100 percent all the time and has the ability to really spark our infield. She has the potential to be something special.”

Hawkeye fans will see a familiar face at shortstop in 2006. Senior Stacy May returns as Iowa’s leading offensive player from last season. May led the team with a .367 batting average, 73 hits and 48 runs scored. May is also the anchor of the Iowa infield and has started every game of her career.

“Stacy is definitely a leader for us,” Blevins said. “She is a very smart hitter and a great defensive player. She really solidifies our infield.”

Third base will see a couple new faces this year. Sophomore Summer Downs will make the move to third after starting the majority of 2005 at second base. Downs, who played third base in high school, batted .269 and led the team with 13 sacrifice hits. Freshman Colleen McGlaughlin could also see action at third base.

“We are very confident in what Summer can do at third,” Blevins said. “She has a solid glove and has good field awareness. Between her and Colleen, we should be strong at the corner.”

The Hawkeye outfield is nearly limitless in potential. A total of 10 players could play outfield for Iowa in 2006.

Three players are competing for time in left field. Junior Jenna Spratt started 35 games last season in left field and finished the year with a .225 batting average. Junior Emily Gerlick returns after sitting out the 2005 season with a torn ACL. Gerlick moved to the outfield last season after being named third team all-Big Ten as an infielder in 2004. McGlaughlin could also see time in left field as well.

“We have three very capable players competing for playing time in left field,” Blevins said. “All three players have good instincts and we can utilize each one in different situations throughout the season.”

Mindy Heidgerken returns as Iowa’s starting centerfielder after a unanimous first team all-Big Ten selection in 2005. The junior led the team with a .421 batting average in conference play and stole 22 bases. Coach Blevins is looking forward to see how she has improved this season.

“Mindy is a very savvy player who knows and understands the game,” Blevins said. “She is a natural on the basepaths and has a great feel of what we are trying to accomplish. She puts tremendous pressure on the defense.”

Kylie Murray made a smooth transition from infield to outfield in 2005 and Blevins plans on keeping her in right field for her senior season. Murray ranked second in team batting average (.333) RBI (42). Freshman Quinn Morelock, who was Iowa’s Class 3A Player of the Year as a senior in high school, could also see action in right field.

“Kylie and Quinn are both good outfielders,” Blevins said. “Kylie has really improved from last season and it will be nice that she has a year of outfield under her belt.”

Three other players, Callie Adreon, Rachel West and Lindsey Emery, are also candidates for the outfield. Coach Blevins is excited to have Adreon and West as pinch-running options. Both have great speed which is a Blevins trademark.

“Callie and Rachel have the potential to create things for us,” Blevins said.

This could possibly be the toughest schedule Blevins has seen in her 19 years at Iowa. The Hawkeyes are scheduled to compete in seven non-conference tournaments and could possibly face ranked opponents in each one.

Iowa opens its season at the Diamond Fun and Sun Classic in Miami against reigning SEC champion Georgia. The Hawkeyes will compete in the Littlewood Classic, hosted by Arizona State and play the Sun Devils three times at their home park.

The NFCA Leadoff Classic is a new addition for the Hawkeyes this season, held in Columbus, GA. Three teams that qualified for the 2005 College World Series, including national champion Michigan, will join the Hawkeyes in Georgia. Iowa will face one of those College World Series teams in Tennessee along with Louisiana-Lafayette, who are the defending Sun Belt Conference champions.

Iowa will face California at the National Invitational Softball Tournament in San Jose and could face a number of other talented teams in the later rounds of the tournament.

The Big Ten race will be difficult as always. Michigan won the conference in 2005 en route to a national championship. Northwestern advanced to the super regional round of the NCAA Tournament as well.

“Our schedule is extremely difficult,” Blevins said. “We are playing some tough tournaments with high-level talent across the board. Playing tournaments like these will only help our team prepare for an even tougher Big Ten schedule.”