Iowa softball embracing infusion of youth and other things we learned from media day
On Thursday afternoon, the Iowa Hawkeyes softball team hosted its annual media day in preparation for the start of the 2023 season.
Following a 21-31 finish last season, the team has undergone a lot of change with several new players and coaches to the team.
Here's what we learned about the team so far:
Last season's struggles motivate the team
Unsurprisingly, no one on the team was happy with the team's three conference wins in 2022, especially after winning a program-high 26 the year before.
That drop-off left pundits pessimistic about the Hawkeyes' chances at claiming the Big Ten Conference Championship this season. According to NCAA's Women's Softball RPI, the Hawkeyes are the 12th (out of 14) ranked team in the conference.
Still, the group is determined to put last season's struggles behind them.
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"Last year, I don't feel like I lived up to my full potential and I know the team didn't as well," said junior infielder Brylee Klosterman. "We have a talented group of girls here and last season lit a fire under us to get going and want to beat these teams. We all have our eyes on the same goal of winning the Big Ten and then eventually a national championship."
To do so, senior outfielder Nia Carter said the team embraced an underdog mentality.
"We are going to play with a chip on our shoulder," Carter said. "We kind of have nothing to lose and everything to prove. So, I feel like people aren't going to be worried about us, but we will show them when we play them because we have been working really hard this year."
Prepare for a youth movement in the starting lineup
With the introduction of 10 freshmen to the team, it should come as no surprise that a few of them are vying for starting spots.
During the team's open scrimmage, they unveiled their potential starting lineup which included four underclassmen, two of whom were freshmen.
Those freshmen were Tory Bennett, who lined up at shortstop, and Anna Streff, who was playing second base.
With a few more weeks before the team's February 10 season opener against Loyola at the FAU Paradise Classic, Hakweyes' head coach Renee Gillispie said there was a chance more freshmen could crack the lineup by then.
"We could possibly have a freshman starting behind the plate, but that is still a battle right now," Gillispie said. "We also have a battle going on at left field. So, as we come up on the season we are pretty close on solidifying who we have, but are locking up those last few spots in the end."
Another new face joining the lineup is sophomore Tatianna Roman, an outfielder who transferred from Alabama A&M.
In her freshman season, she had 41 hits, 13 RBIs and hit .308.
Roman joined the program because she wanted a challenge and she knew immediately she made the right decision.
"At my old school, I just felt like I needed more competition," Roman said. "One of my closest friends helped me get in contact with Coach Renee [Gillispie] and when I stepped on campus, I could tell that the atmosphere was different. When I stepped onto Pearl Field, I knew that this was home."
The bullpen looks vastly different
Last season, the Hawkeyes had five pitchers to work with. Now, they've nearly doubled that number, boasting nine.
In addition to the new players, new assistant coach Mandy Garner has worked closely with the bullpen teaching them new techniques and drills. Gillispie said increasing the depth in the circle was a priority this offseason.
"We lost three senior pitchers and 90% of our game is pitching," Gillispie said. "When you lose three of your top pitchers, it is going to be a hard road. So, we had multiple freshmen pitchers come in who have helped us really solidify that group."
They are led by fifth-year player Breanna Vasquez who led the team with 94 strikeouts last season.
Vasquez said that added depth has brought more perspective and helps everyone get better every day.
"I think that is great because we all share our knowledge with each other," Vasquez said. "After we come out of the bullpen, we will ask each other what we saw and find ways to help each other. Everyone pitches in to help mentor one another."