Hawkeyes' Watkins prepares to bring her bat


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Liz Watkins likes to hit home runs. She's good at it, too.

The Iowa softball team's catcher blasted 9 long balls to go along with 36 RBIs and a .556 slugging percentage in 2011. She's currently tied with current assistant coach Stacy May-Johnson for fourth in Iowa history in career homers, with 23. Watkins' 107 career RBIs are good for 10th all-time, just 2 behind May-Johnson.

Those numbers are impressive, but Watkins has an entire season to add to them — and she's determined to hit with more power this year.

Watkins and her teammates have been hitting the weight room with extra intensity this off-season. The Hawkeyes gather on their own to practice, because they're limited by the NCAA to eight hours a week with a coach.

"We come in on the weekends without the coaches, just to get extra practice in," Watkins said. "We come in early, we stay late, just going in and lifting that much more weight and running those extra runs … You wouldn't be able to excel if you didn't put in that extra time."

But the catcher is going above and beyond those practices. Her training isn't merely physical; she's training her mind as well. Being "mentally tough in the [batters'] box" will help her entire offensive game, she said.

"We've really talked to Liz going into the summer; 'You were a Big Ten player last year, prove it again this year,' " head coach Marla Looper said. "If she wants to go out with a bang, don't assume and rest on what you've done — let's make it even stronger and bigger and faster this spring."

Looper, who is in her second year with the Hawkeyes, has placed an added emphasis on weight training and conditioning this year.

"We hit it hard," she said. "We went five days a week — three days of strength training, two days of conditioning and agility — and the kids woke up at 6 a.m. and didn't complain about it. They got up. They knew it was part of going to work."

First baseman Katie Keim said the workouts with assistant strength and conditioning coach Gabby Quiggle have been harder this season than last. The entire team is faster as a result, and the speed is noticeable.

"We're really in shape," pitcher Chelsea Lyon said. "We're running in the spring, and we're thinking, 'Wow, we're not as bad.' We weren't in great shape … The fact that we could push ourselves and be better this fall — and take it into the spring — is amazing."

The conditioning helps the entire team be agile enough to get to ground balls and run the bases, but the main impact for Watkins has been on her bat speed.

This change will make her even more lethal in the box this season.

"The strength has allowed her to become a little quicker," Looper said. "She was really strong already, but … it has allowed her to have better bat control … if you don't have great bat control, it doesn't really matter [if you have power], because it's all or nothing.

"Now, she's going be a force throughout the lineup, no matter what pitch it is."

Follow DI softball reporter Molly Irene Olmstead on Twitter.

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