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Freshmen fuel Iowa softball’s 2023 turnaround
Hawkeyes prepare for return to Big Ten tournament Wednesday
IOWA CITY — Iowa softball seemed to experience a turning point a couple months ago in Palm Springs, Calif.
The Hawkeyes had been on a 9-1 start, but the second of their Feb. 24 games was different.
It wasn’t against Bethune-Cookman or Loyola Chicago.
It was against the then-No. 1 team in the country, UCLA.
Iowa did not beat the Bruins, but the Hawkeyes — a team with more freshmen than juniors and seniors combined — had the lead for a couple innings and lost by just one run.
“They realized they could play against anybody in the country,” head coach Renee Gillispie said. “You kind of see that spark of them realizing, ‘Hey, we are good, we can do this.’ … They weren’t freshmen anymore after that game.”
The Hawkeyes’ self-belief has helped propel them to a much better fate than a year ago. After going 3-20 in Big Ten play last year, they closed the regular season with a 10-13 conference record in 2023.
“The youth is a little bit of it,” Gillispie said on The Gazette’s Hawk Off the Press podcast. “It’s why we’re kind of up and down this year, but it’s also what has given us those big wins. … They just love to win.”
The ups have shown glimpses of what Iowa softball could be in a few years. The Hawkeyes either won or split three of their first four Big Ten series, and the one exception was against nationally-ranked Northwestern.
Iowa has been in a downward slump to end the regular season, though, losing its last four games. Wisconsin outscored Iowa, 15-1, in the final series.
Freshman pitcher Jalen Adams has been a key part of Iowa’s more successful stretches. The Fort Dodge native has compiled a team-best 2.04 ERA this season.
“She’s doing an incredible job,” Gillispie said.
Outfielder Nia Carter, one of the team’s few seniors, has been a stalwart for the Hawkeyes offensively. She has hit .479 this season.
Iowa will play Maryland at 4:30 p.m. in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. Big Ten Network will televise the game.
Maryland took two of three games during the teams’ regular-season series. Should the Hawkeyes win, they would then take on top-seeded Northwestern on Thursday.
“We’re trying to keep it as positive and as calm as possible going into it,” Gillispie said. “These freshmen haven’t had this experience before.”
Gillispie is optimistic that it won’t be the freshman class’ final time getting this experience either.
“These freshmen are the foundation,” Gillispie said. “I’m excited about where we’ll be when those players are seniors.”