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Softball hosts Western Illinois

BY MITCH SMITH | APRIL 16, 2010 7:30 AM

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Holly Van Vlymen helped the Iowa softball program get to where it is today.

During her tenure as pitching coach from 2000-04, she coached three Big Ten Pitchers of the Year and aided in the Hawkeyes’ College World Series run in 2001 and the team’s Big Ten championship season two years later.

On April 18, she will return to Iowa City as the enemy.

Now the head coach at Western Illinois, Van Vlymen will bring her Leathernecks (23-12) to Pearl Field for a 1 p.m. matchup with the Hawkeyes.

Her team is undefeated in the Summit League (9-0), but it could somewhat fatigued this weekend. Western Illinois will host a three-game series with North Dakota State on Friday and Saturday before traveling to Iowa City.

Iowa head coach Gayle Blevins said Van Vlymen did an “outstanding” job during her time as pitching coach, especially because she was right out of college.

“She wasn’t much older than my seniors,” Blevins said. “Since then, I’ve seen her grow immeasurably as a coach.”

Iowa (22-14-1, 8-1) and Western Illinois have met once this season; the two teams squared off at the Metrodome Tournament on Feb. 12.

Junior Jenny Schuelke hit a go-ahead home run in that contest to edge the Leathernecks, 2-1.

It’s been all Iowa in the series as of late, with Blevins’ squad winning the last 11 contests against the Leathernecks. The last time Iowa lost was when Van Vlymen pitched for the Leathernecks in 1999-2000.

The Hawkeyes enter the weekend riding a two-game winning streak after sweeping Wisconsin in a Wednesday double-header.

Iowa’s offense had been anemic over the past week, mustering just four runs over a three-game stretch — including a 1-0 victory over the Badgers on Wednesday to open the double-header in Madison, Wis.

But the Hawkeye bats exploded for 14 runs in the second game, thanks in part to seniors Taylor Leichsenring and Katie Brown.

Leichsenring went 3-for-4 in the second game against the Badgers, extending her hitting streak to six games.

For the native of Amana, it’s not about the individual statistics — it’s about doing anything she can to get on base and to make the team better.

“I love this team, and I know we have the biggest capability of going really far,” Leichsenring said. “I’m just trying to work on the things that can better my team.”

Brown led the Hawkeyes offensive attack on Wednesday, recording a double and driving in four runs.

Staying focused even though Western Illinois isn’t a conference game is crucial, both seniors said. Although conference games carry a little bit more weight, the April 18 contest still affects postseason play.

“Right now, where we’re at in the season, every game is important,” Brown said. “We’re going to come out playing Iowa softball, focusing on ourselves and not our opponent.”

While the end of the season is still one month away, losing a nonconference game such as this could greatly affect the Hawkeyes’ postseason chances, Blevins said.

“We have to make a statement,” she said. “The opportunity lies every time we step on the field.”


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