Putting Iowa softball back on the map


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Whether it looks like it outside or not, Iowa’s spring sports are starting and, snow or not, the Hawkeye softball team is as prepared as ever.

Marla Looper’s squad is on the rise. Much like any rebuilding team, the Hawkeyes are both young and full of potential.

“It’s starting to move in the direction we want. There’s a lot of vigor, there’s a lot of joy in Iowa softball again,” Looper said. “It comes down to these young ladies, and they’ve worked hard. We are starting to see the energy we want and the intensity we want.”

The Hawkeye head coach, in her fourth season, has put up a record of 84-74 in three seasons, which includes last year’s 30-26 mark, the most wins for an Iowa team since 2009 — the last time the Hawkeyes were selected for postseason play.

Looper finally has her own team, with most of the players on the roster recruited by the Hawks’ head coach. With a renewed sense of optimism after not hearing their name called for postseason play in 2013, the Hawkeyes will try to make a splash in 2014.

The return of senior pitcher Kayla Massey will be crucial if Iowa hopes to return to the upper echelon of the Big Ten. The California native had 25 complete games last season — no other member of the Hawkeyes pitching staff had more than 11. She has also posted a perfect fielding percentage. Massey brings senior leadership to a youthful squad, and there is no doubt whether she will have to be the ace of Iowa’s rotation in 2014.

“Having any returner in the circle is vital,” Looper said. “It’s like having a returning quarterback. It’s nice to have that continuity.”

The player getting the most attention recently has been Megan Blank, who recently cracked the Top 50 Watch List for USA Softball Player of the Year. The junior is coming off a season in which she batted .427, a single-season record for the program, and she received first-team All-Big Ten honors. Blank knows that her recognition is well-deserved, but it is in the past, and her focus is on the upcoming season.

“It’s definitely an honor to be on a list with some of the top players in the country, but that is about what happened last year,” Blank said. “It’s a totally new year, so I am trying to forget and build on what I did. It gets the Iowa name out there.”

Looper echoed those thoughts and said she is excited about the future of the program.

“This is huge for the program,” Looper said. “It’s great for Megan, because she deserves some of that recognition. It’s based on last year, but last year, she was one of the best in the country. It’s great for the program because people know Iowa again. We used to be one of the predominant programs in the country.”

The Hawkeyes are unranked in ESPN’s preseason rankings, but rankings don’t motivate them. Their goal has always been the same — Big Ten champs and make the postseason. Taking it one game at a time is the key to their success.

“Polls don’t really motivate us necessarily, but having our name out there is exciting,” Blank said. “We’re good competition. We are trying to maintain the same composure for each game.”

The team will kick off the season at the Carolina Classic at 12:30 p.m. today in Columbia, S.C.

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