Opportunity Awaits Hawkeyes

April 23, 2011

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Opportunity is the mantra surrounding the University of Iowa softball program. The Hawkeyes get their opportunity against No. 1 this weekend, as the squad begins a two-game series, beginning today, in Ann Arbor against top-ranked Michigan.

The Hawkeyes enter the series with a 7-3 record, putting them in third place in the Big Ten standings. The Wolverines sit atop the league with a 9-1 mark, which means two of the conference’s top teams will square off beginning tonight at 5 p.m. (CST) at UM’s Alumni Field.

“Going in 7-3 midway through the conference is huge,” said UI head coach Marla Looper. “Coming into Michigan facing No. 1 is a great opportunity for us to continue to build. If we keep the ball in our hands, the momentum going our way and are able to keep our tempo, we’ve got a good shot.”

The momentum the first year head coach is referring to comes after the Hawkeyes tallied a pair of dramatic come-from-behind victories in the sweep of Northwestern last weekend at Pearl Field. In the finale, Iowa plated eight runs in the fourth inning to rally for a 9-7 victory. It was Iowa’s first sweep over the Wildcats since the 2004 season.

The team then won its fourth straight game with its 4-3 victory over Iowa State Wednesday night in a Hy-Vee Cy-Hawk Series match-up in Iowa City.

“It definitely builds confidence, it is a positive confidence builder — not cockiness — because it’s a struggle to come back in those games,” said Looper. “We know that if we do get down, at some point in time the game is not over.

“To continue to keep bouncing back from those (deficits) is a momentum booster and a confidence builder that we can take into this weekend.”

Michigan enters today’s contest riding an eight-game winning streak that has pushed its overall record to 41-3 this season. The Wolverines moved into the top spot in both the USA Today/NFCA and ESPN.com/USA Softball top-25 polls earlier this week.

“They’re a phenomenal ball club,” said Looper. “They have been and they’re going to be. I respect that and our team respects that, but I also respect what we’ve done.”

The opportunity to play No. 1 doesn’t happen every day. In fact, the Hawkeyes haven’t played the nation’s top-ranked team since the 2005 season when, coincidentally, they faced the Wolverines three times. Iowa managed to win the opener of that series, 5-2.

Even with the added hoopla that accompanies a match-up with a top-ranked foe, Looper doesn’t put any extra emphasis on the series.

“It’s always nice to be able to get a chance to knock off a No. 1,” said Looper. “You love that opportunity. But is it a bigger game than any other? I don’t think so.

“It would be great to be able to do that, but that isn’t our main focus. Our main focus is taking care of the ball and playing Hawkeye softball… taking care of what we can control and letting the outcome be the outcome.”

Sunday’s series finale against the Wolverines will be streamed live at www.bigtennetwork.com. It will then be re-aired on the Big Ten Network on Tuesday afternoon at 2 p.m.