By JACK ROSSI
IOWA CITY, Iowa — For the past six months, the University of Iowa softball team has been meticulously preparing for the 2019 season as first-year head coach Renee Gillispie looks to shift the culture back toward its winning ways.
“What we saw that needed to be changed the most was the culture of the program and learning how to win again,” Gillispie said. “We need the girls to understand that they have the strength and ability to go out there and compete.”
The process began last fall with the introduction of a new mentality.
“We brought in a lot of leadership trainers to show what it looks like to be disciplined and committed to what we are facing,” Gillispie said. “The Big Ten is a great conference. It’s so competitive and every team is stepping up.”
Gillispie is motivated after watching the program succeed under former head coach Gayle Blevins. The Hawkeyes made the Women’s College World Series four times and won four conference titles during Blevins’ 23 years at Iowa.
“Being a homegrown girl and seeing the Hawkeyes be so successful over the years with Gayle Blevins at the helm was exciting. It’s exciting to come back and get this program back to the strength it had from the late 80s and early 2000s,” Gillispie added. “I want to be able to take this group all the way.”
Throughout the fall season, the players learned to not only compete for themselves, but to fight for each other.
“We have a lot of new light on this team,” junior pitcher Allison Doocy said. “You can tell all of the girls are working hard for each other. We are working hard for ourselves, but also our teammates. You can see it and everybody is excited to work.”
The result of the Hawkeyes’ hard work this offseason will be a much better product on the field, and players who show their love of the game on every play.
“We want to put a great product on the field,” Gillispie said. “We want to have a great attitude and show a lot of hustle. We want to see their heart on the field and that’s what we think the community wants too.”
The Hawkeyes have made a firm effort to give back to the softball community, hosting multiple camps and clinics over the past couple months to get girls involved in softball and inspire another generation of softball players.
“We fight for our community,” Gillispie said. “We had a camp of over 120 young girls who came out and were excited about softball. That’s who we are playing for.”
Iowa’s community outreach also extends to the recruiting circle, where Gillispie and her staff want to be heavily focused on keeping in-state talent.
“Our first priority was to keep the Iowa kids in Iowa,” Gillispie said. “We have a great group we signed in November and there are a lot of from Iowa. The 2020 class that we have a lot verbal commitments from are a majority from Iowa. We are trying to get that culture and excitement back of staying in Iowa.
We are playing for such an important state,” she added. “We are playing for Iowa.”
The Iowa softball team begins the 2019 season at the Tiger Classic in Baton Rouge, La. on Friday at 10:30 a.m. (CT) against Bucknell. Live stats will be available on the team’s schedule page at hawkeyesports.com. Fans may purchase tickets for Iowa’s 13 home games at hawkeyesports.com/tickets or over the phone at 800-IA-HAWKS.