March 1, 2016
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- =”” class=”pagelinks”>24 Hawkeyes to Watch
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Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Wednesday, July 29, 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 2015-16 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.
By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Fans at two University of Iowa sporting events in November, 2011, had a lot to do with winning over Claire Fritsch, now a junior on the Hawkeye softball team.
The sellout crowd of 70,585 that watched Iowa’s football team rally past Pittsburgh on Nov. 17 impressed Fritsch about as much as a few hundred the night before at the softball team’s 20-1 exhibition victory over Indian Hills Community College.
“I went to a football game and that was probably one of the coolest things I have ever experienced,” Fritsch said. “At home there is tailgating, but there aren’t RVs everywhere with black and gold painted all over them.
“I was able to watch a softball scrimmage and there were fans. You don’t normally see that at home. It was impressive; it was kind of chilly and there were fans at a scrimmage. The fan following for all the sports at Iowa is amazing. You don’t see that everywhere.”
Home to Fritsch is Round Rock, Texas, about 20 miles north of Austin. The state is loaded with softball talent, as UI head coach Marla Looper and assistant Adrianna Baggetta know well. They went on a particular recruiting trip with a keen eye on one of Fritsch’s teammates.
“We were comparing the two and (Claire) kept one-upping her in every game we watched,” Looper said. “Coach B and I looked at each other and said, `Wow, this kid is pretty good.’ She is scrappy, quick, heady, and has a good sense about the game.”
Fritsch flew to Iowa City on a recruiting visit and was amazed by Hawkeye fan support. Her interest in Baylor and Texas A&M came to an end.
“I liked the (Iowa) coaches a lot, they fit my personality well,” Fritsch said. “The school and campus all fit. I flew home Sunday and called coach Looper and said I was ready to come here. It didn’t take me much time to think about.”
Fritsch entered Iowa’s starting lineup at second base immediately and has been a mainstay in the Hawkeye lineup since. As a freshman she played 46 games, batting .230 with eight extra-base hits and 10 RBIs. She wasn’t satisfied with her final fielding percentage of .918.
“Freshman year was rough defensively and I have never figured out why,” Fritsch said. “At some point (sophomore) year, something clicked with me and my confidence level came back and I started playing like myself again. Everything started coming more naturally.”
Last season Fritsch reduced her error total by seven and her fielding percentage increased to .941. She started 51-of-55 games, batting .242.
Fritsch is not an emotional player, opting instead to flash a stone face on the field during games. It is a lesson she picked up from her father, Darrell, who preached to her brother, Craig, to stay composed on the mound. Craig Fritsch was a relief pitcher for Baylor, who played in the minor leagues for the Phillies and Mets.
“Growing up watching (Craig) in the way he always stayed calm and collected and never showed his emotion translated into how I played,” Fritsch said. “That was something my dad helped me focus on. It was never difficult for me because I am not an extremely out-there person. It’s important to stay collected on the field. If you make a mistake you will never see me kick the dirt or anything like that. I will keep going with my game.”
“I liked the (Iowa) coaches a lot, they fit my personality well. The school and campus all fit. I flew home Sunday and called coach Looper and said I was ready to come here. It didn’t take me much time to think about.”
UI junior infielder
Thanks to her baseball-playing brother, Fritsch was throwing rolled tube socks around the family’s living room since the age of 2.
“It was fun and when you’re little, if it hits a lamp, it’s fine,” Fritsch said with a smile.
In softball, Fritsch played a year or two above her age through the different levels. Once she turned 8, she started playing select ball and traveling for games in central Texas. At the age of 12, Fritsch competed on diamonds in Dallas and San Antonio.
“As I got older, the further across the country we would travel,” she said.
“It has been fun to watch her grow,” Looper said. “She isn’t overly vocal or a bouncy thing on the infield. She gets the job done, is very matter-of-fact, black-and-white, go get your job done. That has allowed her to go up to the next level.”
In 15 games this season, Fritsch is batting .318 with six RBIs. She has benefitted from first-year assistant coach Jake Schumann‘s quest for QUABs — quality at-bats.
“Do anything you can to put the ball in play and get on base — even if you hit a shot at somebody — that is still a great at-bat,” Fritsch said. “An error to get you on first is still a quality at-bat. Anything to put yourself in a good position offensively for your team is the most important thing.”
In five games at the Coastal Carolina Invitational last weekend, Fritsch batted .400 with seven runs, six hits, and five walks. She also stole three bases and had just one fielding error.
In a season-opening win against Louisville, Fritsch collected the Hawkeyes’ first hit of the season and promptly stole second base. Through the first four games she batted second, fifth, and cleanup in the lineup and hit .500 with a run and four RBIs.
Moving positions in the field or batting order is nothing new to Fritsch.
“She got shifted around to a lot of positions with her club team and rolled with it,” Looper said. “She never played third base, got thrown there and started playing like she had been there forever. When you see a player like that who can adapt, adjust, and compensate you know they will probably thrive at the next level.”
A year ago the Hawkeyes shined late, defeating Northwestern , 8-6, at Pearl Field before knocking off Rutgers and Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament in Columbus, Ohio. Fritsch would like to extend this season even further.
“As a team I would love to make it past the Big Ten Tournament,” Fritsch said. “Our schedule is set up for us to play extremely well.”
Iowa (4-11 overall) returns to action March 5-6 at the Tulsa Tournament in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Hawkeyes will play two games against both Lamar and the host Golden Hurricanes.