By JACK ROSSI
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The Hawkeyes dropped the winter gloves and hats for softball gloves and visors for a spring training trip in Orlando, Florida, last week.
Normally camped out at the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Complex in January, Iowa bucked the trend under first-year head coach Renee Gillispie. The six-day trip, from Jan. 7th through the 12th, provided quality training, bonding experiences for the players and coaches, and a warm, sunny field to practice on.
“We wanted to take advantage of being able to get outside this early,” Gillispie said. “Our team got to do and see things on the dirt that they won’t be able to see for probably another six weeks. This advantage is really putting us ahead about three weeks from where we would have been otherwise.”
The Hawkeyes practiced all over the Orlando area, but no field greater than the United States Specialty Sports Association’s Space Coast Complex, which has served as the spring training sight for three MLB teams.
With a top-notch facility, sunny weather, and a hungry team, the only thing left to do was hit the field. With everybody getting a taste of live action, the coaches got their closest look at each player’s strengths and weaknesses.
“This gives us a chance to see who will be leaning into that starting lineup when February comes around,” Gillispie said. “We saw a lot of improvement this weekend. We thought the communication on the field was tremendous, we got to see fly balls for our outfielders, everybody worked really hard, and the hustle was good.”
Each player got an early and extended look at their game heading into 2019. Sophomore Aralee Bogar solidified her strengths while directly addressing any weaknesses in her game.
“We got closer to where we need to be,” Bogar said. “Personally, I can build off the things that I have done well and I can work on the things that I need to get better at.”
The Hawkeyes departed from Florida knowing they have a leg up on the rest of the Big Ten.
“I feel like we are a leap ahead of everybody else because we got to be outside,” Bogar said. “In the Big Ten, a lot of teams are where we are at in the cold and practicing inside right now.”
When they weren’t on the field, the team was taking in all the sights and sounds from around Florida from going to Universal Studios, to the beach, to team meals at a Hibachi grill.
With less than a month left until the season begins, the Hawkeyes returned to Iowa City a much better softball team than when they left.
“We improved a lot as the week went on and bonded as a team together and got everything cleaned up,” Bogar added. “It is so much nicer to be out in the sun and know what it will feel like during the season. Physically, mentally, and emotionally we are further along because of the environment.”
The 2019 softball season begins for the Hawkeyes on Friday, Feb. 8 at the Tiger Classic, hosted by LSU. First pitch is slated for 10:30 a.m. (CT). Season tickets for Iowa’s 13 home games are available for purchase at hawkeyesports.com/tickets or over the phone at 800-IA-HAWKS. Single game tickets go on sale on Feb. 1.