By JACK ROSSI
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The University of Iowa softball team will hope to have a few surprises up its sleeve when it opens the Big Ten season at Purdue this weekend.
The Hawkeyes entered 2019 with eight new faces, four new coaches, and new uniforms as the team looks to catch the Big Ten off guard.
“It’s a completely new team from last year,” senior Mallory Kilian said. “Teams don’t know what to expect from us. They don’t have a lot on our girls, so that will be the most fun thing. We will be able to come at them with something completely new.”
Iowa completed its best nonconference season since 2013 with a 14-9 record, including a win over Notre Dame, who boasts the 21st-best RPI in the country, but the Hawkeyes didn’t stop improving after that.
“We’re looking to be better than last year and we are looking to be better than we were yesterday,” UI head coach Renee Gillispie said. “The girls are in a good place right now and they are very focused on what they need to accomplish.”
Iowa has yet to reach its fullest potential after letting a handful of games get away during the first six weekends of action.
“The biggest part is knowing not to give games away,” Gillispie said. “We could be 20-4 right now, but we let games get away from us. We beat ourselves in them. We didn’t get a chance to play the best game we could. We need to be focused on playing our game and playing it clean and not giving the game away.”
For Gillispie, she makes her Big Ten coaching debut in one of the country’s toughest conferences, but if there is anything she can bring with her from her time at other programs, it’s that conference teams are your rivals.
“You are always looking forward to playing your conference opponents. Any time you can go win a series, it’s a great thing,” Gillispie said. “We always want to go for a sweep, but the Big Ten is a tough conference to be in. You have five in the top-25 right now, so if we can get into these games and get two out of three then we are in good shape.”
The Hawkeyes are on pace to win 30 games this season, which would be a nine-win improvement over 2018 and all it will take to break that plateau will be to play their own game.
“I want them to play their game,” Gillispie said. “I want them to be relaxed and do what they have been doing for the last 120 days that we have been working at this. Everything we have done up to this point needs to be continued.”
For the freshmen about to experience conference play for the first time, playing one game a day allows them to focus solely on one game rather than multiple a day.
“I am focused on one game at a time,” freshman Abby Lien said. “We don’t have to worry about two or three games a day, so we can give everything we have into that one game.”
Gillispie’s opening day will be an initiation into one of the most competitive conferences in the country.
“As a coach, it’s exciting to be part of an incredible program in an incredible conference with a lot of respected coaches,” Gillispie said. “It’s a neat experience to be a part of that now.”
The Hawkeyes begin Big Ten play today at Purdue at 2 p.m. (CT). The game will be live streamed on FloSoftball and BTN2Go. Live audio is available on Hawkeye All-Access with Jerry Kiwala on the call.