Sept. 20, 2007
Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Thursday, Aug. 2, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2007-08 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
IOWA CITY — Successful athletes often use mind games to gain an advantage in their sport. For Brittany Weil of the University of Iowa, being a successful softball pitcher is nothing more than mind over matter. She should know. Her evolution into a dominant ace could not have been accomplished without a strong, often stubborn, attitude.
“When you step on the mound you can’t hesitate about who you’re playing or who’s hitting,” Weil said. “You can’t show any negative emotion out there at all.”
Weil is a junior from Garden Grove, Calif. At Pacifica High School the four-year honor student was twice named to an All-American team as she led her squad to two state championships. Weil did not begin pitching competitively until she was a freshman in high school.
“My dad was my traveling team coach and every time I told him that I wanted to pitch he said `Go play second base,'” Weil said. “I don’t think he thought I could handle the mental aspect of being a pitcher.”
Weil started playing softball as an 8-year-old and because of the climate in California she could participate in the sport year-round. Hundreds of games later, the college recruiting process began and Weil didn’t need to look any further than Iowa City.
“When I took my recruiting trip, the coaches and players made me feel like I was at home,” Weil said. “I loved the campus and I loved the other girls on the team. I also liked the fact that Iowa is in the Big Ten Conference and has a football team. It was different for me being where college sports are a main focus.”
As a freshman Hawkeye, Weil recorded 27 victories and fanned 270 batters in 296 innings. She was named third team all-Big Ten and team co-Most Valuable Player. Weil compiled seven shutouts and sits second in UI history for complete games (34), innings pitched and strikeouts for a season.
“Pitcher is one position where it’s not uncommon to find an individualistic personality,” UI Head Coach Gayle Blevins said. “But Brittany is definitely a team player and is the first one to give credit to the catcher, the defense or someone getting a key hit. That’s why the team loves playing behind her. It’s refreshing.”
Weil relied heavily on her mental training prior to her sophomore season. During a live hitting exercise one week before the start of the 2007 campaign, Weil had a blistering come-backer smash above her left temple. She was hospitalized for four days and couldn’t make the team’s opening road trip to the Stetson Tournament in Deland, Fla.
“I told (teammates) Amanda Zust and Erin Riemersma and (pitching coach Amanda) Scott that I wasn’t going to redshirt and that I would be playing again that season,” Weil said. “I received a lot of support from the team and coaches.”
“Pitcher is one position where it’s not uncommon to find an individualistic personality. But Brittany is definitely a team player and is the first one to give credit to the catcher, the defense or someone getting a key hit. That’s why the team loves playing behind her. It’s refreshing.”
UI Coach Gayle Blevins
The injury affected Weil’s speech, mandating five weeks of therapy. More than six months later she is still working on math problems, reading comprehension and playing matching games to keep her mind sharp. The complete recovery process, according to Weil, could take a year or more. What might have been a season or career-ending injury served as a motivational tool. Weil was pitching competitively 5 ½ weeks after the injury and set a personal record with 15 strikeouts on March 15 during a 4-0 win against Brigham Young. In her first three games back to the mound, Weil fanned 12, 15 and 11 batters.
“When I got hurt I didn’t see it as a negative, but rather a growing point,” said Weil, who now wears a special headband to assist in shock absorption. “I’m all right with being on the mound. I don’t worry about it.”
On March 17 against Cal-Ploy San Luis Obispo, a line drive sizzled above her head. Weil admitted being rattled and she could not complete the game. Against Northwestern more than a month later, another drive sailed through the circle and four inches above Weil’s head. This time she was able to regroup and go the distance.
“It’s just something I’ll probably always think about,” Weil said. Despite the missed time a year ago, Weil compiled a record of 18-8 with 178 strikeouts in 174 innings and a 1.69 ERA. She was named team co-MVP, second team all-Big Ten and second team all-Midwest Region.
“You’re never sure how much fear, apprehension and anxiety there is after being hit,” Blevins said. “I’m so amazed at how hard Brittany has worked to get through this.”
Weil said she is at her best when the chips are down. “I throw better when there’s pressure,” Weil said. “I don’t mind being in big situations when there are runners on base.”
Blevins echoed the fact that Weil thrives while under the gun.
“Brittany has tremendous poise in the most challenging moments and that’s what makes her so good,” Blevins said. “She is so determined.” The Hawkeyes have gone 76-43 the past two seasons, including 22-14 in the Big Ten. Last season they won 10 consecutive games from March 23-April 3 and despite winning 37 times, they were denied a berth to the regional tournament.
“My big goal, like everyone else, is to get to the World Series,” Weil said. “A Big Ten championship would be nice and we want to get to regionals again and have the chance to go far in the tournament.” Weil’s progress from a high school freshman tossing that initial pitch to an overpowering Division I hurler is mind-boggling.
“It’s crazy to think that six years later I’m at a Division I school and throwing well,” Weil said. “When you get it into your head that you can be a dominating pitcher, it’s easy to come out, practice and have fun with it. I go out every day and give it my all. From a mental standpoint I’m stronger than most people. I’ve been in some tough situations and for me it’s mind over matter.”
Weil is a communications major who is uncertain of her future career plans. She still has two years of collegiate softball remaining. Those are two more years of playing — and winning — the mind games associated with athletics.
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