Notebook: Iowa softball team looks to win big this spring


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Iowa’s head softball coach Marla Looper handed the reins over to her players. The expectations wouldn’t be up to her, but she would embrace the challenge of whatever ther players set out to try to reach.

The goal for this season is merely one more step forward from where the Hawkeyes ended a year ago.

They want a Big Ten title.

“Our goal is to win it,” Looper said on Tuesday evening. “And that was the kids’ goal — not the coaches’. Last year, the goal was top-three [in the conference], and we finished second. And we kicked it into gear when we got into conference play. For us to go on past conference, we have to do a lot better at the beginning of the season, and that starts next week.”

The Hawkeyes finished 27-26 overall last season with a 16-8 showing in conference play. They return more than enough key players who will help lead this team with experience — most notably, pitchers Kayla Massey and Chelsea Lyon and first-team All-Big Ten selection Megan Blank in the infield.

Iowa’s softball squad will head to Houston on Feb. 8 and will play five matches against four opponents over a three-day span. The most notable will be two games against Louisiana-Lafayette, the 11th-ranked softball team in the country.

That isn’t the only highly ranked opponent on the Hawkeyes’ schedule. Their 2013 campaign is littered with top-25 opponents from all around the country. The toughest comes Feb. 22 and 23, when they’ll get a two-game set with the top-ranked, and returning national champion, Alabama.

The Hawkeyes will face ranked foes off and on during the season. They will play a double-digit number of softball teams currently ranked and another handful of lineups that are receiving votes.
This tough scheduling isn’t by accident. Along with the high-standard goals, Looper and her staff have altered their coaching methods that tailor to a conference championship team — constant motivation is key, as is a more rugged practice regimen.

“They’ve bought into our thoughts, and that is that we can be champions,” Looper said. “They’re believing that they can be champs. But they know it’s going to take a lot of work … They’ve got to put in the effort. They’ve got to put in the time … They’ve taken that on themselves.”

Blank’s returning bat

All-Big Ten infielder Blank returns more to the table for the Hawkeyes than just a few lofty honors and recognitions. The sophomore returns a team-leading batting-average of .390, along with 60 hits and a pair of home-runs. Blank also provided 29 runs batted in and 22 extra-base hits.

Her offensive output earned her more than just a first-team all-conference selection — Blank was also selected to the second team All-Region squad last season. Her philosophy entering this season will remain much of the same.

“Not much different,” Blank said when asked how she’d top her historic season a year ago. “I talked with Coach at the end of last year about producing more power in my swing. Maybe not to try to hit more home-runs, but with the changes that we made, that will ultimately be what comes out of that.”

The addition of the Big Ten Tournament

The Big Ten has added a conference tournament at the end of the softball regular season. This will be the first time the Big Ten has had a softball conference tournament since 2008. The result will likely suit the conference better in terms of who will actually be named the Big Ten champion — Iowa, which finished second last year in the Big Ten standings, never played Michigan, which was crowned with the conference title.

This addition alone excites the girls, as they know they’ll finally get a true chance to win the conference crown. “It’s a great opportunity for us to have a better chance at taking the championship,” Massey said. “If not once, then twice.”

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