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Iowa softball's Wall benefits from baseball roots

BY MOLLY IRENE OLMSTEAD | APRIL 12, 2012 6:30 AM

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Iowa second baseman Bradi Wall was in the dirt, sliding on her stomach just feet away from the bag.

She flipped the ball up to shortstop Megan Blank while still her prone position; the umpire called the Illini baserunner out as the dust settled. Wall stood back up and walked her dirt-stained uniform back to her ready spot — more than 10 feet from where she made the diving stop.

It's not a play often seen from softball players, but that's because Bradi Wall didn't play softball growing up.

There weren't many opportunities for her to play women's softball in Saskatchewan, Canada; Swift Current Comprehensive High's program wasn't very competitive. But Wall was, and she wanted to play sports — so she played baseball with the boys.

The Canadian never tried softball until college, when she transferred to the States to play for Iowa Western Community College for two years before transferring to Iowa this season.

"We always thought she would just play on the boys' team for a few years, and once the boys got ahead of her, she would switch to softball or look at a different sport," her father, Ken Wall, said. "But the boys really never surpassed her."

Wall endured a childhood of name-calling and discrimination from her opponents, but she excelled in spite of it. She could play from any position, even pitching out of the bullpen wielding what her father called a "nasty curve ball." She played for the Canadian Women's National Baseball team through two World Baseball Classics, and she will start for the team at the Classic this summer, too.

The junior dominated in baseball, but switching to women's softball was tough. Her father was a successful fast-pitch softball pitcher in Canada and helped her adjust offensively before coming to the States, but Wall is continuing to adjust to defense.

A standard baseball infield stretches 90 feet on each side of the diamond, while the softball field is only 60. Softball infielders have less time to get to grounders and line drives and even less time to make plays to bags and beat out baserunners.

"The hardest thing I had to adjust to was the speed I needed in the infield," Wall said. "In baseball, you can sit back and pick your hop and go. But in softball, you have to go through the ball, move through the ball, attack, and be aggressive. That's one thing that I continue to work on now, just so it's muscle memory."

Wall has repeatedly had to make changes in her athletics career, but one thing has always been the same: her scrappy, gritty aggressiveness. She's continually diving in the infield, jumping for line drives, or sliding head-first in the base paths.

"She's very aggressive and not afraid to get dirty," said Doug Judiesch, who coached Wall's baseball team for around six years. "She has always been the only girl on our team, but we didn't treat her any differently. She took ground balls just as hard as anyone else. That made her just an extremely tough player, physically and mentally."

Wall's initial transition from baseball to softball in 2010 was tough, but that wasn't the end of the adjustments she had to make. She joined the Hawkeyes this fall and had to get used to an even higher level of competition than she was used to at community colleges.

But Wall said her baseball childhood mentally prepared her to take on the rigors of Big Ten athletics. Her national team experiences — and the overall struggle to excel as a woman in a man's sport — brought her to Iowa and kept her strong amid the hardship of learning of a new sport, in a new country, and with a new team.

"At one point, I remember Bradi was getting really stressed and called home and she said, 'I'm living the dream, but I just didn't realize it would be this difficult,' " Ken Wall said. "But I just told her, 'Bradi, you're a player, and you're tough. If it was easy, everyone would do it.' It's true — she's tough, and that's why she's doing well."

Follow DI softball reporter Molly Irene Olmstead on Twitter.


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