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Softball Hawkeyes try not to over-think the game

BY MOLLY IRENE OLMSTEAD | APRIL 08, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Hawkeye softball team will challenge Michigan State at 2 p.m. Saturday and at 1 p.m. April 10 in Pearl Field. Iowa is 19-15, 2-2 in the Big Ten, and the Spartans enter Iowa City at 20-15 (2-4 Big Ten).

After lacking aggressiveness in its game against Drake on Wednesday, Iowa will focus on attacking the ball on offense and defense this weekend against Michigan State, head coach Marla Looper said.

When the Hawkeyes have scored first, they are 18-7, compared with a 1-8 record when the opponent tallies the first run.

“Because softball is very momentum driven, one thing we’ve talked about is starting that momentum for ourselves,” Looper said. “When we can score first, we usually do pretty well because we keep our momentum going. But when we don’t, and it takes a few innings to get swinging, we kind of get back on our heels and fall behind.”

Against Drake on Wednesday, the Hawkeyes broke a 0-0 tie in the top of the sixth inning when junior Katie Keim reached first with a single to right field and was advanced by sacrifice hits from her teammates.

Despite scoring first, the Hawkeyes only registered two hits — both from Keim — and plated only one run. Iowa’s low score was the result of a lack of aggression, Looper said, and the Hawkeyes lost the game in the bottom of the seventh when the Bulldogs plated two runs.

The lack of aggressiveness has emphasized what Iowa needs to work on to prepare for the series against the Spartans: Being smart, confident, assertive, and energetic.

“One of the things the coaches are trying to instill in us is being aggressive but not being stupid,” said freshman third baseman Michelle Zoeller, who went 0-for-2 on Wednesday. “What happened [against Drake] was our energy and confidence were really low to begin with, and then on top of that we were swinging at pitches that were really high or low and not our pitches at all. And when we did get good pitches, we weren’t taking advantage of them. We just weren’t being smart.”

Some Hawkeyes said they play smarter when they’re not thinking, so in practice leading up to the games this weekend, the team will focus on reacting and responding to the ball instead of analyzing.

“I think not having aggression comes down to over-thinking too many things,” Keim said. “Right now, everyone is working on not over-thinking every at-bat — not expecting a pitch or waiting to see a strike or anything. We’re naturally go-getters, so we’re training mentally to be confident and get ourselves in the natural attack mode so we don’t have to over-think in the game.”

During practice, the Hawkeyes have been focusing on their transitions in and out of their circle of focus, which is the 25-30 seconds between when the pitch is delivered, hit, and the play made, Looper said.

Whether they’re in the batter’s box or on the field, the Iowa players practice getting into their circle of focus to concentrate on the play without over-thinking. But they also practice getting out of it in between plays to communicate with their teammates and analyze the next move.

The goal is to be in the circle of focus without thinking, just reacting to the ball naturally, which means the Hawkeyes are playing smart and playing aggressively at the same time.

“As a whole team, we’re working on trusting what we’re doing without needing to think through every move,” Zoeller said. “We put all the work in during the week and our bodies know what they’re doing, so it shouldn’t be a problem for us. We just have to trust what we can do, and then do it.”


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