UI grad Watkins continues to lead

BY CARLOS SOSA | JUNE 05, 2012 6:30 AM

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Liz Watkins was not only a feared hitter but also a powerful leader while playing catcher for the Iowa softball team. She was the cocaptain of a team that, despite its overall 27-26 record, finished 16-8 as the Big Ten runner-up.

Watkins is playing semi-pro fast-pitch softball with the Indiana Slammers and slow-pitch with friends. She graduated in this past spring, but she is just as involved with softball as ever.

"We always told her that as long as she worked hard and was dedicated that she could do whatever she wanted," Watkins' mother, Mary-Beth Watkins, said. "The positive reinforcement helped her believe in her dreams."

"I'm taking opportunities as they come," Liz Watkins said. "I'm currently playing both fast- and slow-pitch ball, but I'm ready for a new chapter in my life. Maybe I'll start coaching or playing — it all depends on the opportunities that come my way."

Watkins saw many opportunities in the batter's box and crushed them en route to earning All-Big Ten honors all four years in an Iowa uniform. She finished her career at Iowa with a .316 batting average, .556 slugging percentage, 137 RBIs, and 27 homers. Her career home-run and RBI counts rank third in UI history.

The slugger grew to be a model of consistency at Iowa, and she will look to carry that forward, whether it is in the workplace or on the field. She became this lead-by-example influence for the Hawkeyes thanks to a simple phrase from her father.

"Ever since I was little, I would step up to the plate, and I could hear my father saying, 'See ball, hit ball,' " she said. "I always stepped in the box with the same mindset of hits will come, but you have to rely on practice and your coaches to go out and perform."

Watkins became a highly honored player. The accolades however, never hindered her work ethic.

"The awards have been incredible," she said. "But I'm going to work just as hard — if not harder — to keep growing as a softball player."

Her effort, dedication, and consistent play naturally influenced the athletes around her and pushed them to improve at their respective positions, including junior pitcher Kayla Massey.

"She led [the team] because she had such a great presence," Massey said. "She had the overall package deal, and players strive to be someone like that."

Watkins was excellent as a hitter, but what made her such a special player was her ability to translate to the defensive end. She committed only 9 errors in her four years at Iowa, and she has a career .993 fielding percentage. Even more than her statistics and success on the diamond, however, she left a lasting impression on her teammates because of her leadership.

"She helped me to pitch and play better every day," Massey said. "I wanted to work harder because of her, especially this past year."

Her college career is over, and Watkins is now focused on her new job with HON, one of the largest office furniture retailers in the country. She'll work in the sales- and marketing-leadership development program. 

Even with a job secured, she hopes to continue playing softball — whether it's recreationally with her friends or in international professional leagues.

Watkins is connected with Stacey Townsend, a pitcher with the Britain National Team and Stacey May-Johnson, the Iowa assistant coach and former USA Softball Player of the Year. The recent graduate hopes these players can continue to influence her softball performance, and she hopes her softball experiences can continue to improve the rest of her life.

"I hope to play across seas — Europe, hopefully," Watkins said. "I've been practicing with Stacey Townsend and Coach Johnson, which is helping me to become a better player. However, my new priority is my job with HON."

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