Injured player still helping softball team

BY SAM LOUWAGIE | MAY 04, 2011 7:20 AM

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Ashley Vanderloo, the student assistant for the Iowa softball team, sits in the press box every game day with a laptop computer and watches every pitch. As soon as the ball reaches the catcher's mitt, Vanderloo goes to work.

She clicks the mouse on one of several buttons for different pitch types — curve ball, fastball, rise, or drop. She then clicks on a grid to indicate where in the strike zone the ball crossed the plate.

Finally, she clicks "save," ensuring that the system will record video of the pitch, along with the type and location she's just entered.

Vanderloo is occasionally asked how she's able to tell so quickly what type of pitch it was.

"Sometimes, it's kind of a 'guesstimate,' " the Sioux City native said and laughed. "But I've grown more comfortable with it, and it's come with experience."

Also helping Vanderloo recognize the pitches is that she spent a year facing them each day in practice and a high-school career crushing them. Last season, she was a Hawkeye outfielder who appeared in 15 games and started one. In high school, she batted .497 for her career and led the state of Iowa as a junior hitting at a .602 clip.

"That's the reason why we felt that was a good role for her," head coach Marla Looper said. "That experience, and she knows what the pitches are supposed to look like."

In the fall of 2009, Vanderloo lifted weights with her teammates in preparation for her first season of college softball. The sophomore admits she "didn't really know what I was doing." As she attempted a hang clean — where a person starts with the bar at waist level, then lifts it up to her shoulders — Vanderloo aggravated a previously slipped disc in her back.

Though she didn't realize it at the time, her softball playing career had effectively ended before it began.

Vanderloo played and practiced through mild pain for a full season and trained hard last summer in hopes of earning a starting spot her sophomore year. But the pain grew worse, and despite therapy this fall with team trainers, her back had been too badly injured.

Over winter break, Vanderloo called Looper and tearfully told her that she had decided, after consulting with doctors, to stop playing.

"A doctor told me that I could play now and pursue my dream or have a normal healthy life in 10 years," the sophomore said. "That kind of swayed me."

Vanderloo asked if she could stay on as a manager. She still attends every practice and game, feeding the batting machine and helping set up equipment in addition to her video work. Teammates say despite not playing, she still provides some of the same benefits to the program she did last year.

"She really has filled a lot of the same role she did last year," senior Chelsey Carmody said. "She's a big part of the team, and she always has been. She's a great person to bring people together, and she's continued to do that this year."

Looper said Vanderloo showed professionalism in transitioning from player to staff and said Vanderloo's pride and work ethic make her an asset to the organization. In return, Vanderloo gets to hang around the team and the players she grew attached to.

"I think I'd be a lot more sad if I had completely quit the team," she said. "But them having me around helped. Most of these girls are my best friends, and they treat me like I'm on the team. And I still have the team's best interests at heart. I try to do whatever I can to help it out every day."

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