Outfielder Schuelke gets her groove back

BY SAM LOUWAGIE | APRIL 26, 2011 7:20 AM

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Iowa softball coach Marla Looper said she doesn't believe in slumps. But it's tough to find a better word for what senior outfielder Jenny Schuelke went through earlier this season.

After a hot start to the year, Schuelke's production began tailing off. Her batting average dipped below .200. She had two stretches — one of eight games and another across seven games — without an RBI. She went from hitting third or fourth in the order to sometimes out of the lineup entirely.

But Schuelke may have gotten back on track on April 20 against Iowa State when she drilled a pitch over the center-field wall for her fourth home run of the season. The three RBIs were her first in a month.

The next game, Schuelke went long again, this time a two-run homer in the second inning that helped the Hawkeyes topple No. 1 Michigan. She scored another run after drawing a walk in the second game of the series against the Wolverines.

Schuelke has shown the kind of power in Iowa's last three games that she flashed early in the season.

Her first at-bat of the year resulted in a three-run home run. On Feb. 18 against Idaho State, she drove in five runs — including a grand slam that ended the game on the run rule. Starting with that game, Schuelke went 8-for-20 over a six-game stretch.

But then, the Solon native said, she began thinking too much at the plate.

"I was getting a little worked up at the plate," she said. "There's a big mental part to it, and I was thinking, 'Is [the pitch] going to be on the outside corner?' or 'Oh, I popped up last time.' You just have to trust your eyes and know the pitcher's going to come to you."

Looper said Schuelke was too conservative early in counts, which put her in a hole each time she stepped up to the plate.

"The challenge is swinging at good pitches without waiting too long for them," the first-year head coach said. "She was being a little too picky. That's when she started struggling."

Schuelke said she has recently simplified her approach to hitting, and Looper said the senior is starting to "decide her own fate" at the plate by swinging at pitches more freely.

Earlier in the season, assistant coach Stacy Johnson told Schuelke it would be good for her mentally to step out of the lineup for a while. Schuelke said it helped relieve some stress, but it also drove her to take an extra batting session each day in an attempt to work her way back into the lineup.

Coaches put her back in as the No. 8 hitter, which Looper said took pressure off her and allowed her to see some better pitches. Schuelke's re-emergence as a power hitter, if it sustains, will bolster the bottom half of Iowa's lineup, which Looper has said the team needs more production from.

Junior captain Katie Keim said she had expected her teammate to bounce back.

"Everybody goes through slumps," Keim said. "I knew she's a great hitter. It was just maybe having more confidence, that can help a lot. She's giving the team a big boost."

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