Small College Sports

Erin Kuba has been a hit for Indian Hills

Sophomore earned NJCAA Division I National Player of the Week honors

Ironside Apparel’s Erin Kuba of Indian Hills (10) fields a ground ball hit by Emil’s Hideaway during the first game of the new Iowa Women’s Softball League at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids  on Sunday, May 28, 2017.   (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Ironside Apparel’s Erin Kuba of Indian Hills (10) fields a ground ball hit by Emil’s Hideaway during the first game of the new Iowa Women’s Softball League at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids on Sunday, May 28, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

OTTUMWA — Erin Kuba opened the season with high expectations.

The Indian Hills Community College sophomore devoted much of her offseason to refining her tools as a hitter, working to improve her production and chances to continue her career at the highest levels of the NCAA.

The start was good but not what she would have liked, suffering stretches that resembled last season. Kuba found herself pleading and praying to break out during pregame mental preparation for a doubleheader with two-time defending NJCAA Division I champion Butler (Kan.) Community College.

“I was like, ‘OK, this is going to be it and I’m going to do it,’ “ said Kuba, who went 4-for-7 with a walk, four RBIs and scored twice against Butler. “That was kind of my breakthrough game for me.

“After that it gave me the confidence I needed this year.”

Kuba has had a banner season, helping the 14th-ranked Warriors to their fourth straight Iowa Community College Athletic Conference regular season title. The former Cedar Rapids Jefferson all-stater is batting .443 with 12 home runs and 54 RBIs, entering Friday’s game against Marshalltown Community College to open the NJCAA Division I Region XI tournament in Ottumwa.

“She’s had a huge impact on our team and this program,” IHCC Coach Laura North said. “We’re big on culture here. We preach hard work, respect for the game and we love each other. Erin is the culmination of all those things.”

Kuba was honored as the NJCAA D-I National Player of the Week for April 16-22, hitting .625 with 14 RBIs and eight extra base hits. She was also named ICCAC D-I Player of the Week for the second time this season. Kuba wasn’t consumed by the accolades.

“It’s a really nice honor,” Kuba said. “I’m grateful for that, but I’d rather be national champions than just be player of the week. It’s definitely a nice honor.”

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“The first thing I noticed (Kirkwood’s) DoniRae Mayhew (from Bettendorf) got it this week for Division II in NJCAA. That was one of the first thing that I noticed. Not only did two JUCOs from Iowa, but two hometown Iowa kids got it. I thought that was pretty cool.”

Kuba’s influence has extended beyond the diamond. She has battled multiple bouts of cancer and has tried to raise awareness and moneys to help fight the disease. Tough has been a regular description of her.

North was familiar with her story when she recruited Kuba, but she was even more impressed when she became closer with Kuba.

“I was honored, flattered and super excited,” North said of her commitment. “Getting to know her has been an incredible experience. … It’s something I will treasure forever.”

North played an important part in Kuba nearly doubling her batting average from a year ago and boosting her home run total from one last season.

Mechanics were in order, but they focused on her timing in the batter’s box and creating power with her back leg.

“My coach has been a great help and asset for me,” Kuba said. “She really worked with me a lot.

“We tweaked a couple things with my swing and everything. We really worked on that in the offseason. It’s paid off so far for me this season.”

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Experience has been a key factor as well. The transition from high school dominance to college took some adjustment. She had to learn pitchers and a different strike zone.

Kuba adapted and honed her skills, playing in a summer league against college pitchers from NAIA to NCAA Division I.

“I was able to learn my weaknesses and strengths and try to improve my weaknesses and maintain what I was strong at last year,” Kuba said. “Just kept working on it over the summer.”

Kuba feasted on the inside pitch as a prep, showing her power at the plate. Teams tried to neutralize that by pitching to the outside corner, forcing her to pull it or go the other way.

In college, she suffered fits from pitchers with an effective screwball. She focusing on correcting that issue as well.

“Not seeing it fooled me a lot last year,” Kuba said. “I’ve worked on hitting it and I’m able to hit it now.”

The knowledge and potential to perform at this level was there, according to North. Kuba applied it and spent hours in the batting cage to make strides. North said she has learned to hit quality pitching with the Warriors’ tough schedule.

“Erin has handled that well,” North said. “Learning how to hit all the different pitching. She’s taken a lot of pride in the cerebral part of hitting.”

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Kuba also discovered another way to develop as a player. She embraced a new softball role, returning to Jefferson and helping coach freshman and sophomore teams.

Kuba also sat in on some varsity action, picking the brains of J-Hawk head coach Brian Erbe and assistant coach, Mike Kuba, who is her father.

“It was fun for me to learn from them,” said Kuba, who expects to help with junior varsity this summer. “See what they’re seeing and compare it to what I thought I would have done to what they do, seeing how they align. They’ve been around the game for a while.

“They know a lot, which helps me as a player also. I learn different situations and what the best option is in certain situations. It’s fun to coach and learn at the same time.”

The dream of competing on the NCAA D-I level is legitimate. Kuba’s turnaround at the plate and at third base has her ranked 71st nationally among JUCO sophomores by Flosoftball.com. She will attempt to lead the Warriors (43-10) to the national tournament, which would work in her favor as she chases down that goal.

“Now is really that time where coaches figure out what players they need to fill in for their teams,” Kuba said. “Within the next couple of weeks, I’ll be contact with a few more coaches. Hopefully, by the end of May I’ll know where I’m going.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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