Iowa softball captain made beneficial mid-career change

BY CODY GOODWIN | APRIL 17, 2013 5:00 AM

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Iowa softball coach Marla Looper remembers watching a younger Johnnie Dowling go to bat and thinking that something was amiss.

The then-sophomore brought power to the plate, slamming 10 long balls in her first two seasons in a Hawkeye uniform. She also brought speed to the base paths, snagging 24 bases in the same two years.

But what Looper saw was bigger than any steal or homerun.

“Speed kills in our game, but if you don’t get on base, it doesn’t matter how fast you are,” the now third-year head coach said. “[Dowling] had a lot of power from the right side, so she’d get on some, but her on-base percentage wasn’t where we needed it to be for her to be beneficial on the bases.”

Looper then asked Dowling to move to the other side of the plate. Maybe if she hit from the left side, the coach thought, she’d get on base more.

Dowling, now a captain for the Iowa softball team, has hit from the left ever since.

“It came a little easier to me than I thought it would,” she said. “It was a whole different feel, and I needed to get my coordination down on the left side. I had to hit almost every single day from the left side.”

The change brought almost immediate success for Iowa’s leadoff hitter. Dowling compiled a .206 batting average during her first two years as a righty, then turned in a .308 in her first campaign as a left-handed slapper. She is hitting .348 as a senior.

Moreover, the Des Moines native’s on-base percentage has skyrocketed since switching to the left side of the plate, to the tune of a .412 average so far this season — a drastic increase from her .276 average in her first two seasons.

These are the results Looper knew Dowling could produce. She said Dowling spent nearly the whole summer between her sophomore and junior seasons working on her new swing and buying into the idea.

That alone brought a smile to Looper’s face.

“You love seeing players like that, who are willing to sacrifice something they’re already good at, and try something completely new halfway through their college career, and excel in it,” Looper said. “Not everybody has that ability to excel in it, but she dove headfirst, and didn’t hesitate, didn’t plug her nose, nothing. She just dove right in and worked at it.”

Dowling’s ability to quickly escape from the batter’s box after contact and reach base has provided the Hawkeye offense with more scoring opportunities. The ability to reach base more often helps the team build confidence.

“It’s hard to score runs when no one’s on base. It takes a long ball, and those don’t come along that often,” Iowa shortstop and RBI leader Megan Blank said. “It helps for sure with the momentum, like if you get a runner on, then the dugout goes crazy, and everybody gets loud. It gets everybody pumped.”

The momentum doesn’t stop on the bench, because even the base runners are excited to circle back to home.

“I’m very happy with [the hitting change], especially with a hitter like Megan Blank behind me,” Dowling said, smiling. “All I have to do is get on base, and she just hits me on in.”

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