Hoffman becomes force for Iowa softball

BY CODY GOODWIN | APRIL 05, 2013 5:00 AM

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It appeared as a single fluent motion.

Wisconsin’s Kendall Grimm took off for second-base as Kayla Massey’s pitch crossed the plate. Holly Hoffman caught the pitch and without a second thought cocked her arm and flung the ball to shortstop Megan Blank.

Grimm was tagged out at second, putting an end to the Badgers’ side of the fourth-inning during the first of two March 29 softball games between Iowa and Wisconsin. Hoffman celebrated quietly to herself while she jogged back to the Black and Gold dugout, where Iowa softball coach Marla Looper stood with a wide grin.

“That was awesome,” Hoffman said. “In the preseason, I hadn’t thrown out as many people. But that game, I was locked in and ready for them to steal.”

Hoffman ended last weekend’s three-game set with the Badgers throwing out three potential base-stealers — one in each game. The redshirt freshman has caught eight potential base-stealers so far this season.

Perhaps even more effective than her skills behind the plate are her abilities when she’s swinging the bat. Hoffman’s been hitting to the tune of .213 so far this season — though her batting average might not be terribly dazzling in comparison with her teammates, she sits third on the team in both RBIs and home runs, tallying 18 and 2.

But along with these highs come plenty of lows, too. Hoffman has faced her fair share of freshman woes — the Osceola, Ind., native went hitless in the series against Wisconsin and struck out five times.

“It’s been interesting,” Looper said. “She’s still growing, still learning. When you’re learning to catch three, four, or five different pitchers, and they all have different personalities, different buttons to push, the challenge is learning each one of them and working with them individually.”

This challenge for catchers isn’t new, and it isn’t easy. But Hoffman’s transition from prep softball to the college ranks, and the challenges it brings, was a bit easier than most.

Hoffman first came to Iowa City in January 2012 after graduating early from Penn High School in Osceola — something that’s normally seen in football and rare for sports like softball. She used her redshirt year as time to become acclimated to the Iowa softball program.

Even more, Hoffman also used that season to shadow and learn under former Iowa catcher Liz Watkins, an All-Big Ten honoree in each of her four years in a Black and Gold uniform.

The experience to learn from one of the school’s best-ever catchers — Watkins ranks third in the Iowa record books in both career home runs (28) and RBIs (137) — was invaluable and has served Hoffman well during her first full-time campaign.

“It helped her understand what we expect out of our catchers,” Iowa defensive coach Adrianna Baggetta said. “She watched Liz and what she was good at, but she also watched what Liz struggled with … that helped her understand what is needed to play at this level.”

Hoffman doesn’t spend time comparing herself to Watkins. She’d rather go out and set a few records of her own — perhaps even break some of the ones that were set by her predecessor.

“She’s done a pretty decent job of stepping up as a newcomer,” Looper said, smiling. “We don’t like to use the word ‘freshman’ too much around here.”

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