Young softball team on learning curve


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Coming off a disastrous 16-30-1 season, a young and inexperienced Iowa softball team has its work cut out for it.

But rather than treat the team’s seven newcomers as such, head coach Maria Looper handles them no differently than her seasoned vets.

“After Day One, they're no longer freshmen,” Looper said. “As soon as you call them that, they believe it and continue acting that way.”

The fresh faces include freshmen Daniela Chambers, Ashley Yoways, Cheyenne Pratt, Daneilla Ibarra, Allie Wood, Sarah Kurtz, Angela Schmiederer, and transfer Jillian Navarrete.

Inevitably, many of the newcomers will be counted on to contribute immediately.

“There's a chance we could have four or five in our lineup at one time,” Looper said. “They’re going to be a vital part of our program this year.”

The team also returns five sophomores, meaning that 13 of the 19 players on the roster aren’t yet halfway through their college careers.

The good news is the team has a solid core of players with a lot of experience, headlined by all-everything senior Megan Blank. She and others are poised to provide essential leadership, which is needed if the Hawkeyes want to put their struggles in the past.

For the Hawks, a lead-by-committee approach may suit the team best.

“I and Kara [Misel] are captains,” Kaitlyn Mullarkey said. “But I feel that everyone on the team has a voice, I think there's a very good communication flow throughout the team, and it helps everybody out.”

If last season provided anything, it was an opportunity for players to grow. Seven starters are back from that team. Blank, along with juniors Whitney Repole, Holly Hoffman, and Erin Erickson, and sophomores Claire Fritsch and Alyssa Navarro all started at least 39 games a year ago.

That doesn’t mean Blank and Company don’t seem too concerned about the prospects of playing with so many younger teammates.

“We do have a lot of newcomers this year,” she said. “But ever since they came here in the fall, they came here with an urge that said they wanted to be here.”

That urgency will be much needed. The team’s Big Ten record over the past two seasons is 15-29, after going 16-8 in 2012.

Aside from the three-time All-Big Ten selection Blank, Iowa's best returning hitter is Repole, who hit .265 in 2014.

As for pitching, the team is desperate for answers. Shayla Starkenburg enters the season with a career 4-10 record and 5.90 ERA. Looper has also noted the potential with Navarrette and Yoways on the mound. Other than that, only time will tell who the staples of the rotation and bullpen will be.

Fielding will also be an area to address, but the the veterans are optimistic that the freshmen will adapt to the college game quickly and provide the boost Iowa needs.

“Based on the fall, the newbies have shown they’re ready to play,” Blank said.

For the potential pitcher and infielder Yoways, the sooner the Hawks get on the field the better.

“I'm really looking forward to it,” she said. “I think as a freshman class. we really have that spark that’s needed.”

Follow @CharlsGreen on Twitter for news, updates, and analysis about the Iowa softball team.

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