2010 Softball Season Outlook

Feb. 17, 2010

From the outside looking in, some might say that 2010 is a rebuilding year for Iowa softball. After all, the Hawkeyes graduated seven seniors, including one of the most decorated pitchers to ever wear the Black and Gold. But Head Coach Gayle Blevins doesn’t like the term “rebuilding,” especially with the amount of talent on the 2010 Hawkeye roster.

Blevins returns nine letterwinners and five starters from last year’s team that went 42-16 and made an appearance in the NCAA Tournament for the 16th time in school history. Add a talented group of newcomers to the experienced returnees, and Blevins believes the combination could equal success.

“For some, it would be easy to think of this year as rebuilding,” Blevins said. “We do not choose to think that way. We have a lot of talent on this team. We are confident that we can develop into a contender for the Big Ten title this season.”

Blevins, who has always been a fan of coaching the mental game, believes team attitude will be extremely important this season.

“We definitely lost some talented players to graduation,” Blevins said. “However, this is nothing new to our program. We graduate quality players every year. Our goal is to contend for the Big Ten championship. We believe we have the leadership and the talent to do that.”

The following is a position-by-position breakdown of the 2010 Iowa softball team.

New and familiar faces will be scattered around the Hawkeye infield in 2010.

One of the familiar faces will be senior Katie Brown at first base. Brown started and played all 58 games last season at first. She was second on the team in batting average (.346) and home runs (7). What’s more impressive is Brown’s .994 fielding percentage a year ago. The Spirit Lake, IA, native committed just two errors while registering 338 putouts and 12 assists. Brown was a second team all-Big Ten selection in 2009, and Blevins is looking for big things from her senior tri-captain.

“Katie is rock solid at first base,” Blevins said. “We have incredible confidence in all parts of her game. Katie is one of our tri-captains and a tremendous leader. We are looking for Katie to have a great senior season.”

Junior college transfer Stephanie Ochoa could also see action at first base. Ochoa played two seasons at Iowa Lakes Community College, and attended the same California high school as former Hawkeye all-American Brittany Weil (Pacifica). Ochoa was a two-time all-NFCA and all-NJCAA pick, and will bring offensive presence to the Hawkeye lineup.

“Stephanie put up some impressive numbers at Iowa Lakes for Coach Mike Bosch,” Blevins said. “She is a solid hitter, and we look for her to be a big contributor to our offensive lineup.”

Junior Chelsey Carmody will begin her third season as Iowa’s starting second baseman. Carmody played in 54 games at second last season, with 53 starts. She was third on the team with a .333 batting average, adding one home run, 10 doubles and 18 RBI. Carmody is a tri-captain for the Hawkeyes.

“Chelsey is a stellar all-around player and plays an outstanding second base,” Blevins said. “It’s always nice to have solid experience up the middle, defensively. Chelsey provides talent and leadership to lead the infield and our hitting.”

Freshman Jordan Goschie is also in the rotation at second base. Goschie is from Eugene, OR, and was a three-time all state and all-league selection.

The Hawkeyes will have to replace three-year starter Erin Riemersma at shortstop. They’ll look to sophomore Katie Keim to fill the role. Keim played in all 58 games last season, with 43 starts at third base. She was a third team all-Big Ten pick. Blevins believes Keim has transitioned well to shortstop, and will gain more confidence as the season progresses.

“It’s a big switch moving from a corner infield position to shortstop,” Blevins said. “Katie has adjusted well, and we’ve been impressed with her abilities. She has a great glove and solid arm, which will be a good addition to our middle.”

One new face who will return to the infield and play third base this season is senior Lindsey Digmann. As a freshman, Digmann started 27 games at second base, before moving to left field as a sophomore. Digmann battled a hand injury last season, but still played in 27 contests, all in the outfield. Blevins has pulled Digmann back to the infield, in order to get the most productive lineup on the field.

“Lindsey spent a lot of time training at third during the off-season and she has come a long way.” Blevins said. “Lindsey has great quickness and instincts. The more repetitions she can get at third, the more comfortable she we will become. I love her attitude and daily work ethic.”

Freshman Sam Valentine is also an option at third base. Valentine was a two-time all-state selection at English Valleys High School.

A solid mix of freshmen, sophomores and juniors will patrol the Hawkeye outfield this season.

Junior Jenny Schuelke will be the starter in left field. As a sophomore, Schuelke recorded 19 starts, primarily as the designated player. With Digmann’s switch to the infield, Blevins is looking for Schuelke to hold down the position.

“Jenny has improved dramatically, especially this year,” Blevins said. “Over the past two seasons, she has shown what she can do, offensively. Now, we need her to step up and be a leader in the outfield. Jenny is more than capable of filling that role.”

Freshman Ashley Akers, from nearby Tiffin, IA, could also see time in left or center field. Akers is a product of the successful Clear Creek Amana High School softball program, and was a first team elite all-state, all-district and all-conference selection as a senior.

Another Clear Creek Amana graduate will be Iowa’s starter in right field. The speedy Taylor Leichsenring returns for her senior season. Blevins is hoping to have Leichsenring provide an offensive spark to the lineup.

“Taylor is a tremendous weapon on offense,” Blevins said. “She has the ability to reach base every at-bat. We need her speed and quickness in our lineup. Her speed will be a consistent option for us in the outfield.”

Also battling for time in right field is freshman Ashley Vanderloo. Another native Iowan, Vanderloo hails from Sioux City, IA, and prepped at Sioux City East. She was a four-time all-state selection, including elite team honors as a junior and senior.

The Hawkeyes will most likely have a new face in center field this season. Freshman Johnnie Dowling is listed as the team’s No. 1 centerfielder, and has been impressive defensively in pre-season workouts. Dowling is from Des Moines and attended West Des Moines Valley High School. She was a four-time all-state pick, including elite team status as a sophomore, junior and senior. Dowling spent the majority of her high school career in right field, but Blevins has been impressed with the freshman’s ability to play center.

“Johnnie has the ability to be very special, defensively, for the Hawkeyes,” Blevins said. “She covers so much territory and has a great arm. She knows she needs to work hard and keep improving. We believe this is exactly what she will do.”

Senior Amanda Zust, freshman Chelsea Lyon, and senior Katie Brown will shoulder the responsibility of replacing one of the most decorated pitchers in Hawkeye history in Brittany Weil. Weil graduated last season and was drafted by the Akron Racers of the National Professional Fastpitch league.

Zust has been a solid pitcher in Iowa’s rotation for the past three seasons, and has helped the Hawkeye pitching staff rank seventh in the country in earned run average over the past two years. Last year, Zust finished 16-4 with a 1.89 ERA and collected 121 strikeouts to 68 walks. Zust tossed a five-inning no-hitter against South Dakota and committed only one fielding error in 66 chances.

“We are happy to have someone like Amanda in our pitching corp this year,” Blevins said. “She brings experience and a great work ethic. We are very confident in her abilities. Amanda is the type of pitcher who relies on her defense, and, we have a very solid lineup behind her.”

Lyon comes to Iowa City from Broken Arrow, OK, and was considered one of the top pitchers of her recruiting class. She earned numerous awards as a senior, including Louisville Slugger/NFCA High School first team all-region honors and third team all-America honors. She was the 2008-09 Oklahoma Gatorade Player of the Year and finished her high school career with a 75-8 record, 0.77 ERA and 550 strikeouts. Lyon is also an offensive weapon, batting .371 with 13 home runs as a prep.

“We continue to be impressed with Chelsea’s development,” Blevins said. “She is making great strides and we look for her to have a solid year. Chelsea and Amanda have contrasting styles, which is something we always like to have.”

Another pitching option this year is senior Katie Brown. As a freshman, Brown tossed in eight innings with three strikeouts, but has not pitched since. Brown was a decorated pitcher at Spirit Lake High School, and Blevins says Katie can bring much desired depth to the circle.

“Katie’s role may very well take on a whole new look this year,” Blevins said. “Her pitching gives us the ability to create numerous offensive lineups. She has embraced the challenge and has worked hard to add this to her list of contributions to the team.”

Sophomore Liz Watkins returns behind the plate, after having a breakout freshman campaign. Watkins was a third team all-Big Ten pick last year after starting 54 games, including the final 34 games. She finished second on the team with nine home runs and 45 RBI, and committed only one error for a .998 fielding percentage. Watkins burst on the scene during conference play on national television, when she hit a walk-off home run against Illinois. Blevins is looking for Watkins to repeat those types of performances as a sophomore. Watkins is one of the Hawkeye tri-captains this season.

“Liz has a solid presence behind the plate,” Blevins said. “She is an intelligent player, and had a banner year as a freshman. Liz has continued her progress during the offseason. She will be looked to for many contributions, defensively and offensively.”

Another junior college transfer, Sarah Spiering, is battling for time at catcher. Spiering is from Upper Burrell, PA, and attended Indian River Community College in Florida. While at Indian River, Spiering earned all-conference and all-state honors while leading her school to a conference championship in 2009.

“Sarah has made great strides since joining our program,” Blevins said. “It’s always fun to see a player change from the fall to the spring. Sarah provides us with another big bat. She will immediately strengthen our offensive lineup.”

Senior Heidi Daumen will take reps at both catcher and first base. Daumen is a two-time recipient of the teams’ Peg Augspurger Hawkeye Heart Award. Last season, Daumen played in 13 games and scored three runs.

“So many of Heidi’s contributions never show up in the box score,” Blevins said. “She knows that her contributions add to the success of the team. As a coach, you appreciate the ability of your athletes to embrace their roles and realize that there are many ways to contribute.”