By GRACE TAFOLLA
MADEIRA BEACH, Fla. — The University of Iowa softball team switched out its parkas for t-shirts and sunscreen, journeying 1,296 miles to Madeira Beach, Florida, on Jan. 9-16 for its second-consecutive spring training trip under head coach Renee Gillispie.
While the trip allows the Hawkeyes to practice outside on a field, it also gives the team an opportunity to grow closer.
“Coming down to Florida is a bonding experience,” said senior infielder DoniRae Mayhew. “Yes, practices can be hard, and we’re working to get better, but we’re also spending so much time together between practice, hanging out, and eating meals together.”
For Mayhew, a native of Bettendorf, Iowa, this team’s chemistry is different compared to other teams she has been on throughout her softball career.
“We’re able to have fun on the field together now that we’re closer. We’re more in-sync,” said Mayhew. “This team meshes well with one another. I can go up to anybody and have a good conversation.”
On Jan.13, Iowa completed a beach workout led by Marine Corps Officer Cory Ross. The team separated into different groups and each group was assigned a leader who led their groups throughout the workout.
Nicole Yoder, a native of Buffalo, Iowa, was one of the leaders chosen despite being a freshman. Yoder’s ability to effectively communicate, pay attention to detail and display a positive attitude, positioned her team to finish first. Even though the workout proved to be intense, the entire team finished and strengthened its relationships with one another.
“I was a little nervous at first, but then I took the role and listened to what Cory wanted us to do,” said Yoder. “I thought about my teammates and how I wanted us all to succeed, so I went with it.”
Running sprints through sand, carrying sandbags, and completing exercises pushed Iowa past its boundaries. The team grew closer by supporting and helping one another out during certain tasks.
Afterwards, everybody jumped into the ocean, enjoyed the sunset and realized what the team is capable of achieving.
“The beach workout showed us our potential as a team,” said Yoder. “It makes us buy-in to winning a Big Ten Championship and making it to NCAA Super Regionals.”
Despite Iowa’s roster comprising of 28 players, the team is close-knit. Spending nearly every hour of the day together during the seven-day stretch allowed for the team to grow even closer.
The team started each morning with a 30-minute workout at 7:30 a.m. before eating breakfast with each other. Then, Iowa practiced at R.O.C. Park in Madeira Beach from 9:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. After the morning practice, the team ate lunch together near the ocean to enjoy the nice views and beautiful weather.
After lunch, Iowa would meet in small groups before traveling back to the field to scrimmage each other every night until 7 p.m. After scrimmaging, the team ate dinner and spent time together before lights out.
While the trip was training-oriented, not every minute was dedicated to softball. Saturday’s morning practiced was followed by lunch on the beach. On Sunday, Iowa enjoyed free time, riding roller coasters and seeing animals at Busch Gardens in nearby Tampa.
Soaking up sunshine and grinding through challenging practices allowed the team to focus on getting better each day and understanding its mission to rise to the top of the conference.
“When we focus on building relationships with one another, it helps the team grow as a whole and we trust each other more on the field,” said Mayhew. “Spring Training allowed us to become closer and have that trust.”
Whether it’s by running grueling sprints through the sand, hitting an inside pitch down the third-base line or getting to know a teammate, the University of Iowa softball program returns to Iowa with an understanding of how its 28-person roster functions as one team with one heartbeat.