An Iowa native is taking over the Hawkeyes’ softball program.
Iowa named Renee Gillispie, a Danville native, the program’s fifth head coach Friday.
Gillispie was previously head coach at Central Florida, where she was 625-403-1 in 18 years. The Knights were in the NCAA regionals seven times during her tenure and claimed five conference titles. They advanced to the regional finals four times.
Gillispie takes over for Marla Looper, who resigned after compiling a 172-247-1 record in eight seasons.
“The Hawkeye family and Iowa softball took a huge step forward today,” Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta said in a news release. “It is great to have Coach Gillispie on the team.”
Gillispie, who played collegiately at Kirkwood and West Texas A&M, will attempt to restore Iowa to previous heights. The Hawkeyes reached the Women’s College World Series four times and won five Big Ten titles under Gayle Blevins, who coached from 1988-2010.
“Having the opportunity to take over this program and return it to the championship culture it once had excites me,” Gillispie said in a news release. “There is a rich tradition of talent in the state of Iowa. Being one of those players, I know how special it was to have the University of Iowa show interest in you. For me, it is being able to recruit these players and get them excited about Iowa, competing for Big Ten championships, and the ultimate goal of returning to the World Series.”
Iowa has not made an effort to retain the state’s top talent lately. Former Benton Community prep Amber Fiser told The Gazette this season that Iowa never contacted her during the recruiting process. She’s now an all-Big Ten pitcher for Minnesota. Ankeny Centennial grad Kendyl Lindaman has earned Big Ten player of the year honors in each of her first two seasons with the Gophers.
Fans were vocal about wanting someone with connections to the state to take over. Gillispie’s hire has Blevins’ endorsement, as well as that of Alabama Coach and Waterloo native Pat Murphy.
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“Renee is an outstanding selection to lead this program,” Blevins said in the release. “As an Iowa native, she knows the history of the program, and the importance of this sport in the state of Iowa. She is a proven leader of successful programs, both on the field and in the overall development of her players.”
“She is the perfect choice for the University of Iowa,” Murphy said in the release. “I have known her for years, and as two native Iowans, she is one of the nicest individuals in the sport of softball. She has always fielded a very competitive team. I don’t see any reason why she won’t bring Iowa to new heights in softball.”
Gillispie coached four years at Texas Tech, including a regional runner-up finish in 1999, before starting UCF’s Division I program. Her staff was named American Athletic Conference Coaching Staff of the Year in 2014 and 2015.
At Kirkwood, Gillispie pitched in two NJCAA Championships. She set nine career pitching records at West Texas A&M, where she was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005, including wins, strikeouts and saves.
Iowa was was 21-32 in 2018, including 6-16 in the Big Ten. Sophomore pitcher Allison Doocy, an Ankeny grad, was named first-team all-Big Ten.