116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Renee Gillispie figures her team is a year behind schedule.
“I had a one-year plan, a three-year plan, a five-year plan of where I expected the program to be,” said Gillispie, in her third season as softball coach at the University of Iowa. “COVID put a hitch in that.”
On the other hand, considering where the program was before Gillispie’s arrival, progress is impossible to overlook.
The Hawkeyes take a 23-17 record into their final series of the season, a four-game set with Illinois (23-17) that starts Friday at Pearl Field.
Both teams are tied for fourth place in the Big Ten, along with Indiana.
“It’s coming together,” Gillispie said. “Our pitching is good, our defense has the pitchers’ backs and we’re getting the hits we didn’t get earlier.”
Then came the biggest compliment yet:
"It looks like an Iowa Hawkeye team.”
Friday: 7 p.m.
Saturday (DH): 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.
Sunday: 3 p.m.
Iowa was a force during Gayle Blevins’ reign from 1988 to 2010. In that span, the Hawkeyes went to 16 NCAA tournaments and four Women's College World Series.
The program sank under Marla Looper (172-247 in eight seasons), but is ascendant again under Gillispie, who was hired in 2018.
“I look back at the program Gayle had, it was about grit,” Gillispie said. “And that’s what I see with this team.
“We’re on the right path. We’ve got to get the good kids out of Iowa and keep building what we have.”
The Hawkeyes have posted seven wins in their last eight games (a four-game sweep of Rutgers, then three victories in a pivotal four-game series with Nebraska) that gives them something to play for this weekend.
“My favorite part is watching it all come together,” pitcher Allison Doocy said. “We knew we had something special right away.”
A senior from Ankeny, Doocy has been the Hawkeyes’ No. 1 pitcher throughout most of her career and carries a 10-4 mark, with a 1.87 ERA, this season.
“For the seniors, it’s our last chance to play at this level,” she said. “It comes with changing the standards of the program, finding a purpose, why are we here?”
As Gillispie noted, one of her priorities when she was hired was to recruit, and land, the best in-state talent. Ten Iowans are on the 24-player roster.
That includes the top two hitters, both of whom are freshmen.
Denali Loecker, who led Ogden to the Class 2A state championship last summer, is hitting a team-high .339 and paces the Hawkeyes in doubles (10), home runs (four) and RBIs (27). Brylee Klosterman of North Liberty is hitting .324 and has scored 17 times.
Due to COVID, the Big Ten did not allow its members to play out-of-conference games, and will not hold a conference tournament. The combination of those circumstances make Iowa’s bid for an NCAA tournament berth a long shot.
The Hawkeyes have an RPI of 109.
“I’ve been doing this a long time. I’ve dealt with the committee making decisions that didn’t go our way,” Gillispie said. “It hurts that we didn’t play outside the Big Ten.
“What is in our hands is how we finish. I think the committee looks at the final 10 games, and that’s something we have in our hands.
“We want to make it hard for them to make a decision (against us).”