Jan. 29, 2015
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By JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The University of Iowa softball team wants to break the fish bowl in 2015.
The mindset started during the fall when the Hawkeyes addressed and moved past last season’s 16-30-1 finish. The team’s focused then shifted to 2015.
“They learned from (last season) and put it behind them,” said UI head coach Marla Looper at the team’s media day Thursday at the Iowa Turf facility at the HTRC. “The fall was a challenge to get past that mindset.
“In preseason camp, they were talking about breaking the fish bowl. How do we get out of what has been comfortable?”
Looper brought in a mental coach to work with the team during the preseason. She also called on the services of fellow Iowa coaches to give motivational talks to the team.
“They’re biggest thing is breaking through, not just thinking they can, but knowing they can get it done,” said Looper. “They’re hungry and are ready to sit down at a buffet and have at it this spring.”
“We want to be known as a gritty team, one that never gives up, and one that opponents don’t want to face. We’ve put in a lot of work to show we’re gritty. A lot of times people talk about what they want. This year something that is different than last year is we say what we want, but we’re doing it, too.”
UI senior shortstop Megan Blank
The Hawkeyes return seven starters and 11 letterwinners. Six of Iowa’s returning starters — Megan Blank (SS), Whitney Repole (OF), Holly Hoffman (C), Claire Fritsch (IF/OF), Erin Erickson (OF/1B), and Alyssa Navarro (IF/OF) — started at least 39 games a season ago.
Looper also added eight newcomers that she expects to contribute immediately.
“There is a chance we could have four or five (freshmen) in our lineup, and they’re going to be a vital part of our program,” said Looper. “They’ll help catapult us to where we want to be by the end of the season and that’s competing for a Big Ten championship and getting into the postseason because that’s where we need to be.”
Iowa’s eight newcomers include: Sarah Kurtz (OF/IF, Herndon, Virginia), Angela Schmiederer (C, Prospect Heights, Illinois), Allie Wood (OF, Cypress, Calif.), Jillian Navarrete (P/UTIL, Carlsbad, New Mexico), Daniella Ibarra (IF, Emerson, New Jersey), Cheyenne Pratt (OF, Festus, Missouri), Ashley Yoways (IF/P, Cedar Lake, Indiana), and Daniela Chambers (C, Irvine, California).
“Based on the fall, the newcomers have shown they’re ready to play,” said Blank, the lone senior on the Hawkeye roster. “The impact I’ve seen so far in practices is they’re not playing like newcomers, they’re playing like veterans already.”
Blank’s return at shortstop gives the Hawkeyes stability in the infield and one of the best players in the Big Ten (and maybe the country). The three-time first-team All-Big Ten selection hit .361 with 21 runs and 25 RBIs as a junior. She is a .398 career hitter.
“Our expectations have always been high for Megan and hers are of herself,” said Looper. “Her biggest challenge is to go out and be the best she can be every day. She’s ready to get on the horse and ride and take this team on her back.”
The Hawkeyes will rely on redshirt sophomore Shayla Starkenburg (4-10, 5.90 ERA) in the circle in 2015, and Looper likes what newcomers Navarrete and Yoways bring to the table.
“Shayla has grown since last year, and we’re looking forward to getting some more innings out of her,” said Looper. “Navarrete is a junior college transfer who hasn’t thrown as much as the other pitchers, but she has gotten back on the horse and done a good job of getting back into the rhythm of things.
“Yoways is a freshman we recruited as an infielder and she happens to have pitching experience. She has done a great job of stepping up her game honing in on her pitches. She throws some nasty stuff, which will be fun to see her on the mound.
“I feel comfortable in the innings we’re going to get out of all of them, and I am comfortable with the defense and offense we’ll have around them.”
Blank says the team has worked hard to form an identity during the preseason, and they’re carrying it through.
“We want to be known as a gritty team, one that never gives up, and one that opponents don’t want to face,” said Blank. “We’ve put in a lot of work to show we’re gritty. A lot of times people talk about what they want. This year something that is different than last year is we say what we want, but we’re doing it, too.”
It’s a good way for the Hawkeyes to break the fish bowl.
Iowa opens season at the UNI Dome Tournament from Feb. 6-8 in Cedar Falls, Iowa, facing off against Drake, UNI, Southern Utah, North Dakota State, and Green Bay.