Iowa softball's Zoeller finds success in new role on the diamond

BY BEN ROSS | MAY 03, 2012 6:30 AM

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Michelle Zoeller came into the 2012 season as the incumbent at third base for the Iowa softball team.

The sophomore walked on to the team last year and started 41 games at the position for the Hawkeyes.

She found out that nothing is certain in sports this year, though — the starting third-base position was awarded to freshman Melanie Gladden.

Zoeller still saw sporadic opportunities to play; she has started five games at third base this year, but only one of those starts was during Big Ten competition. She occasionally appeared in games as a pinch hitter, but that was usually the extent of her playing time.

Then Zoeller was called upon to make her second Big Ten start of the season on April 21 against Michigan State — not at her infield position, though, but as the designated player.

The Mequon, Wis., native did well in her new role. Over the course of the weekend she went 5-for-9 at the plate with 1 run and 2 RBIs in Iowa's three-game sweep of the Spartans.

Earlier in April, fielding coach Adriana Baggetta told The Daily Iowan that she thinks Zoeller had a drop in confidence, which could be attributed to her lack of playing time. But Zoeller said she thinks her confidence has boosted since she has gotten the starting nod at DP.

"I'm excited to be contributing," she said. "I think that first weekend they put me in, I came out pretty hot against Michigan State and that's been able to help me with my confidence."

She has since started the last five contests at the spot for Iowa, including the final three home games of the season for the Hawkeyes this past weekend against Indiana.

Zoeller has assembled a .437 average (7-for-16) in her last six Big Ten starts.

The business major showed her versatility this past weekend as well. She filled in at her old third-base spot after the infield was largely rearranged because of an injury to Megan Blank while she was running the bases in the bottom of the fifth inning in the second game of an April 28 double-header.

Head softball coach Marla Looper said the type of player she's seeking should be a jack of all trades, and be comfortable wherever they're put on the field.

"She has done a really nice job stepping up to that role," Looper said of Zoeller's switch. "That's one thing we talk about in recruiting. We have to get them trained in more than one spot and get them comfortable doing a variety of things."

Still, the coaching staff isn't expressing surprise in the success that Zoeller has had in her newfound position. Assistant coach Stacy May-Johnson said she wasn't caught off guard by Zoeller's performances of late, saying she knew the sophomore always had the ability in her.

"She has been there before," said May-Johnson, a former Hawkeye infielder herself. "She knows what it's like to have good days and bad days. It's not really a surprise when she does well because she's done well so many times before it's second nature at this point."

Follow DI softball reporter Ben Ross on Twitter.

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