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Watkins to challenge Indiana in the batter's box

BY MOLLY IRENE OLMSTEAD | APRIL 29, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Iowa softball team will travel to Bloomington, Ind., this weekend to challenge Indiana (30-15; 10-2) in its third Big Ten showdown in a row. After dropping a double-header against Wisconsin on Wednesday, the Hawkeyes will try to boost their 26-19 overall and 8-6 Big Ten record in the conference games on Saturday and May 1. Both games are scheduled to begin at noon CDT.

Junior Liz Watkins leads the Hawkeyes in four offensive categories, including RBIs (35) and home runs (nine).

Watkins' 23 career home runs are tied with hitting coach Stacy Johnson's career achievement.

"She packs a big punch," head coach Marla Looper said. "She definitely has some power, and if she swings at good pitches and she swings hard, she's going to hit it a long way."

Despite the success she has found behind the plate, Watkins continually works to improve her swing. Her motivation is a goal placed in front of her by Johnson, who said that if Watkins can perfect her swing, she has the power to hit 25 home runs in a season.

"My goal is just to hit the ball hard," Watkins said. "You can't go up to an at-bat thinking you're going to hit a home run. Every swing that I take, my goal is just to make it a good swing, to always make sure I'm giving it my all."

Johnson helped Watkins set her goal of 25 home runs in order to motivate the junior to perfect her swing. Although Watkins brings a lot of power in her bat, she struggles with staying tall throughout the swing and lifting the ball off the bat.

But Watkins also has another goal in mind: Moving on to the women's professional softball league after college.

To get to the pro league, Watkins will have to "put up the numbers."

"As you get to the next level, the pitchers are better, the fielders are better, it's a lot more difficult," Looper said. "But if [Liz] can continue to progress and grow, she definitely has a chance to make it."

Other than tweaking the mechanics of her swing, Watkins' challenge is to "not be mental at the plate," Looper said. Watkins over-thinks when she's in the batter's box and swings at bad pitches or doesn't take advantage of the good pitches she sees.

In order to make it to the next level, she needs to show the professional league high offensive statistics, but if she dwells on the need for numbers, she won't play well. Instead of overanalyzing, Watkins is keeping her focus on her goals themselves: breaking Johnson's record, hitting 25 home runs in a season, and making it to the professional league.

"It's always been a dream of mine, and now it's a goal of mine," Watkins said. "I would love to be able to play at the next level just to show everybody that a small-town girl can do it. I come from a small town, where people told me I'd never go anywhere big, so my goal is to prove to them that I can. I want to give hope to the little girls from my area because they look up to me.

"I just want to show them that anybody can make it, that if you put in the hard work and if you want it bad, anybody can do it."


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