Softball Ready For 2008 Season

Jan. 17, 2008

IOWA CITY – The 2008 University of Iowa softball team doesn’t have to look too far for motivation heading into the upcoming season. After missing out on the NCAA Tournament last season, for only the second time in the past 13 years, the Hawkeyes are hungry for a Big Ten title and a return trip to postseason play.

Head Coach Gayle Blevins’ squad returns eight starters and 14 letterwinners from last year’s team that finished with a 37-21 record along with a fourth place finish in the Big Ten. All five players who garnered postseason honors in 2007 return this season.

“Not being selected for the NCAA Tournament last season has been a driving force for us,” Blevins said. “The team has a commitment to do all the little things to make sure we aren’t even close to being on the bubble this year. At the end of the season, we want to know we are going back to the NCAA Tournament.”

Blevins will return an experienced group of upperclassmen along with some underclassmen who saw significant playing time last season. The 21-year head coach believes depth and different types of talent will make the 2008 Hawkeyes a fun team to coach.

“We have options this year, offensively and defensively,” Blevins said. “We have the ability this year to put together different types of lineups and bring different people off the bench in key situations. It’s nice to have options when looking at a lineup card.”

“Brittany’s biggest asset is her competitive spirit. Her drive and attitude to accept nothing but the best is something every coach wants to have on their team. I’m sure last year’s injury has given Brittany a new outlook on life. Brittany is stronger this season and I look forward to seeing her improvements on the field.”
Head Coach Gayle Blevins

Junior Brittany Weil will lead Iowa in the circle this season.

Junior Brittany Weil returns to the circle after a whirlwind season in 2007. With just a week left before opening day, Weil was struck in the head with a line drive at practice. The injury sidelined her for the first five weeks of the season. The Garden Grove, CA, native overcame the traumatic injury and finished the season as a second team all-Mideast Region selection and a second team all-Big Ten pick. Weil led the team with an 18-8 record, 1.69 earned-run average and 178 strikeouts. Blevins believes that Weil’s experiences in 2007 will drive her to be even more successful this season.

“Brittany’s biggest asset is her competitive spirit,” Blevins said. “Her drive and attitude to accept nothing but the best is something every coach wants to have on their team. I’m sure last year’s injury has given Brittany a new outlook on life. Brittany is stronger this season and I look forward to seeing her improvements on the field.”

Sophomore Amanda Zust also returns after seeing a significant amount of time during the 2007 season. Zust made 29 appearances as a freshman, recording a 10-7 record with a 1.88 earned-run average and 146 strikeouts. The Des Moines native made great improvements in the fall and Blevins is pleased with her progress.

Sophomore Katie Brown will also be in the pitching mix. Brown had six appearances and one start last season and will be used in short and middle relief situations in 2008.

“I think Amanda showed the most growth on the team during the fall,” Blevins said. “She worked hard on developing pitches and will raise her performance to a new level. Amanda has improved in every facet of pitching and I think the combination of Brittany, Amanda and Katie will be great.”

Senior Emily Nichols will be the primary catcher in 2008 after both catching and playing infield last season. 2007 was a banner year for Nichols offensively, shattering Iowa’s career home run record and maintaining the seventh longest hitting streak in NCAA history at 28 games. She led the team in nearly every offensive category and was named second team all-Mideast Region and third team all-Big Ten. Now as a senior co-captain, Nichols is ready to lead the team from behind the plate.

“I could not be happier with a senior leader,” Blevins said. “She is a tremendous leader on and off the field. As a coach, it’s great when one of your best athletes is also one of your best leaders. She plays with a lot of confidence. I expect Emily to have a great senior season.”

Freshman Lindsey Major could also see time behind the plate and at first base. The Lockport, IL, native was an all-state selection as a high school senior and Blevins believes she could make an immediate impact this spring.

“Lindsey is a solid hitter,” Blevins said. “She is going to be a great player for us down the road. I’m pleased she can train with a great senior leader like Emily, this season. We know that Lindsey has the capability of coming up with big plays for us.”

The Hawkeye infield has a mix of veteran leadership with young talent, along with good depth. Ten of the 18 athletes on the roster could potentially see time in the infield this season.

Junior Colleen McGlaughlin along with Major, Brown, sophomore Heidi Daumen and senior Stephanie Ackerson are all in the mix at first base Nichols could also fill in at first base, if needed.

“We have our greatest depth at first base,” Blevins said. “We have a number of players who could step into the position and contribute on any given day.”

McGlaughlin, who also is a possibility at third base, played wherever she was needed last season. The Morton, IL, product started all 58 games, including 24 at second base, 19 at third base, 13 in left field and once at both shortstop and right field. She also finished with the second-highest batting average on the team (.339) and was a second team all-Mideast Region and third team all-Big Ten pick.

“Colleen is a student of the game,” Blevins said. “She can do so many things for us and she never worries where she will play. Colleen just goes out and plays. All great teams have a player like Colleen; someone who can play wherever they are needed. Her presence makes us a better team.”

Brown saw eight starts at first base last season. Blevins likes Brown’s approach at the plate and believes her defense will follow.

“Katie’s biggest tool is her bat,” Blevins said. “She has long-ball potential every time she digs in. She had clutch pinch-hits for us last year and it’s nice having her as an option at first base as well as in the circle.”

Daumen received the Peg Augsburger Hawkeye Heart Award last season. She played in 10 games as a freshman and Blevins loves the attitude Daumen brings to the field.

“Heidi is a hard worker who loves softball,” Blevins said. “She is the type of person who makes everyone around her better.”

Second base looks to be secured by talented freshman Chelsey Carmody.Sophomore Lindsey Digmann is an option at second base and left field. Carmody comes to Iowa from the successful St. Louis Chaos ASA organization, and Blevins is confident she will make an immediate impact.

“It will be nice having a true leadoff hitter in our lineup,” Blevins said. “Chelsey has great instincts, offensively and defensively. She is a quick player who Hawkeye fans will truly enjoy watching over the next four years. We are very pleased to have Chelsey in our infield.”

Junior Erin Riemersma returns at shortstop after starting all but one game there in 2007. Riemersma was a first team all-Big Ten selection after batting .370 in conference play. The Orland Park, IL, native hit a walk-off, two-run homer in extra innings against Ohio State last season. Blevins believes Riemersma has more clutch performances in store for 2008.

Junior Erin Riemersma is one of Iowa’s co-captains this season.

“Erin is one of those key players you can build an infield around,” Blevins said. “She is a vocal leader on the field and is a smart player. She is confident at the plate as well. It’s going to be hard to get a ground ball through the middle of our infield with Erin and Chelsey.”

McGlaughlin, along with senior Summer Downs will see time at the hot corner. Downs was a second team all-Big Ten selection, recording a .297 batting average while starting 37 games as the designated player and 14 games at third base.

“Summer is healthier heading into this season,” Blevins said. “We feel she will be able to play more for us in the field. She is a great offensive weapon and we need to keep her bat in the lineup. She is another great example of what you want out of a senior.”

Both familiar and new faces litter the Hawkeye outfield this season, with eight players competing for playing time.

Junior Rachel West will make new moves, both offensively and defensively, this season. West will make the jump from left field to center field and has also been converted to a slap-hitter. Blevins believes both moves make the Burlington native more of a threat.

“Rachel is really picking things up quickly,” Blevins said. We can use her speed to our advantage at the plate and in the field. Rachel has a good arm and is becoming more assertive in the outfield. We know she will keep improving with time.”

Junior Rachel West will make the move to center this season.

Right field will be filled by two athletes who gained valuable experience at the position last season. Junior Quinn Morelock and sophomore Taylor Leichsenring will compete for time throughout the season.

Morelock started 22 games in right field last season while batting .313 in conference play. She also finished fifth on the team with 20 RBI. Morelock’s strong arm is a quality Blevins likes to have in right field.

“Quinn is an aggressive outfielder,” Blevins said. “She knows the position and her arm is one of the best on the team. She has the ability to throw anyone out at any base.”

Leichsenring had 26 starts in right field before moving to the designated player role. The Amana native had an impressive freshman campaign, finishing with the fourth-best batting average on the team (.322).

“Taylor had a great freshman year and we know she will keep improving,” Blevins said. “We love having another slapper in the lineup and her speed on the bases is something we can use to our advantage.”

Two players are available in left field, with McGlaughlin and Digmann being the options. Digmann, normally an infielder, is making a smooth transition to outfield.

“We moved Lindsey to left field late in the fall and she has responded very well,” Blevins said. “She has great speed and is improving every practice. Her slapping also gives us options in terms of our offensive lineups.”

Three other players, freshman Jenny Schuelke and juniors Callie Adreon and Lindsey Emery are also competing for time in center and left field.

Schuelke was named the Iowa High School Class 2A Player of the Year last season and brings an impressive high school resume. Schuelke battled injuries at the start of her collegiate career, but Blevins is hopeful she can recover and contribute in 2008.

“Jenny will make us stronger in the outfield,” Blevins said. “She has good speed which will also help us in pinch-hitting situations.”

Adreon played in 54 games, mostly as a pinch-runner last season. She was Blevins’ first option off the bench in running situations and scored 17 runs while stealing four bases.

“It’s great to have someone like Callie to come in and run for us,” Blevins said. “Her awareness on the bases is improving game-by-game.”

Emery played in 39 games with four starts in right field last season. She tallied her first career hit against Indiana March 31 and also scored two runs.

“Lindsey has made good progress defensively,” Blevins said. “We are pleased with her contributions and see her as a definite option in the outfield.”