New softball assistant a hit with players

BY SAM LOUWAGIE | MARCH 29, 2011 7:20 AM

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Iowa softball head coach Marla Looper said she brought in Stacy Johnson as an assistant this season because Johnson has “great character, great energy,” and as an Iowa alumna, “a lot of pride in the program.”

Another factor working in Johnson’s favor is a trophy case full of National Professional Fastpitch awards.

Johnson retired from the Chicago Bandits in 2010 as one of the most decorated players in league history. The Reno, Nev., native was the league’s Rookie of the Year in 2006, and she earned three All-Star selections and two MVP awards in her five seasons.

Part of what made her pro career successful was her drive to improve every season, Johnson said.
“It’s a league where some really quality players don’t make it,” she said. “You realize you have to keep working and bring your best every night, or you’re not going to make it, either.”

Johnson hopes to bring that lesson, and plenty of others, to the Hawkeyes this season as a first-year assistant coach. Fittingly, the player who is still in Iowa’s all-time top five for career runs scored, hits, doubles, and home runs will coach the team’s offense.

Junior catcher Liz Watkins, an All-Big Ten selection her first two seasons, said Johnson has improved her hitting this year. All season, Watkins said, Johnson has been urging her to “hit taller,” meaning standing stronger on her front leg in order to have more power behind her swing.

It worked this weekend. Watkins hit .714 with six RBIs in a two-game sweep of Ohio State.

Watkins said learning from Johnson is “an honor.” Her coach’s biggest asset, Watkins said, lies in her ability to adapt her coaching to fit players’ strengths as batters.

“She’s not about changing peoples’ styles,” Watkins said. “She’s about tweaking things and making it work. Our offense has taken such a jump this year, and I credit that to Coach Johnson.”

That approach, Johnson said, came from a revelation she had during her Hawkeye career. Early on, she was a self-described “free swinger.” But she realized eventually that she didn’t swing and miss very often. That realization allowed her to be more selective at the plate, forcing an opposing pitcher to throw more pitches and wear her own arm out.

“Softball is a game of adjustments, and you have to play to your strengths,” Johnson said. “I try to communicate a player’s strengths to her and work off that.”

Looper said that style makes Johnson a good coach.

“She doesn’t have a cookie-cutter approach,” the first-year head coach said. “She works within the players’ styles and tendencies.”

Looper also said Johnson’s offensive background is a good complement to her own pitching-heavy credentials.

“She’ll tell me, ‘I see our pitchers doing this and this, and I’d attack that all day,’ ” Looper said. “And that helps me work with the pitchers. And I give her the pitching side, and she can use that for the hitters. It works well.”

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