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Softball opens 2010 campaign

BY MITCH SMITH | FEBRUARY 12, 2010 7:30 AM

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When the Iowa softball team takes the field in Minneapolis this weekend, it will be the squad’s first game without one of the best players in school history.

Former Hawkeye pitcher Brittany Weil dominated the Big Ten in 2009, becoming only the eighth player in conference history to amass 1,000 strikeouts while tossing five no-hitters — including a perfect game — in the process.

“You don’t replace people like that,” Iowa head coach Gayle Blevins said. “Each year is a new challenge to put people into new roles.”

That challenge will begin tonight when the Hawkeyes open the 2010 season with a revamped pitching staff and new group of players in the Metrodome Tournament in Minneapolis.

Iowa will play Arkansas and Western Illinois today and Drake and Iowa State on Saturday before closing out the tourney with another game against Drake on Feb. 14.

The Hawkeyes have had recent success in past season-openers, winning the last five.

Although the team has yet to take the field, Blevins said, she is pleased with how developed her players are at this juncture.

“I love the attitude of our team,” she said. “We’ve made very good strides this year with our team in terms of being unselfish and being team players first. I think that will be our great strength.”

Nine players return from last season’s team, which finished 42-16 and lost in the NCAA regional. Six freshmen and two transfers also join the squad this year.

While the Hawkeyes possess a group of strong athletes, Blevins said, it’s going to take a collective effort in every facet of the game for the team to have another successful season.

“I think we’re going to be a team that gets results by committee,” she said.

Seniors Amanda Zust and Katie Brown, who hasn’t pitched in two years, and freshman Chelsea Lyon have taken on the task of replacing Weil on the mound.

Zust is the lone returning pitcher from last season. She went 16-4 with a 1.90 ERA in 31 appearances.

Despite not having pitched since 2007, Brown said she doesn’t feel additional stress on the mound.

She made six appearances for the Hawkeyes during her sophomore campaign, and she has pitched since third grade.

“I don’t think there’s any pressure,” she said. “It’s just about your mindset. I love big situations.”

Brown also leads the group of returning Hawkeyes at the plate. She tallied a .346 batting average in 2009 with 10 home runs and 49 RBIs.

Iowa returns three of its top four hitters in Brown, junior Chelsey Carmody, and sophomore Liz Watkins — all of whom were named the team’s cocaptains this season.

Junior transfer Stephanie Ochoa is also expected to provide extra pop at the plate. Last year at Iowa Lakes Community College, she posted a .509 batting average and earned Offensive Player of the Year honors.

A strong desire to perform well had the Hawkeyes putting in the extra work in the off-season, said Watkins, who believes the team will undoubtedly contend this year.

“We want to go out there and play Hawkeye softball,” she said. “That’s the biggest, best thing we can do. We’re just going to go out there, and play our game, and success will follow.”


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