116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Minnesota infielder Sydney Dwyer didn't grow up an Iowa softball fan despite attending Pleasant Valley High School, about 60 miles from Iowa City.
When it came to Dwyer's college choices, it didn't matter anyway. The Gophers were the only Big Ten school to offer her a softball scholarship.
Friday at Iowa's Pearl Field, Dwyer clubbed a second-inning double off the outfield wall to tie the game at 2-2. She finished with two hits and two RBIs in a 14-3 Minnesota victory in front of her own maroon cheering section.
'Everyone on the team joked, 'Oh, we've got to go to Iowa,'' said Dwyer, a sophomore. 'I'm like, 'It's the best state in the world.''
When the weekend was complete, Dwyer's regular-season batting average was .311, seventh-best on the Gophers. But it was better than any player at Iowa.
Dwyer's story has become a regular occurrence, where many of the state's best softball players are leaving for Iowa's rivals. Dwyer's former Pleasant Valley teammate, Chloe Miller, posts Wisconsin's second-best batting average. The Badgers have four Iowa natives on their roster and two play prominent roles. Northwestern has two Iowans on its roster. Missouri's top pitcher — Paige Lowary — twice was the state's player of the year at Dallas Center-Grimes.
Iowa, which signed two instate players — Iowa City West catcher Taylor Libby (daughter of gymnastics coach Larissa Libby) and Ankeny pitcher Allison Doocy — continues to fall behind its border rivals in recruiting Iowans. Minnesota signed Ankeny Centennial star and current senior Kendyl Lindaman, who already owns the state's single-season (24) and career (56) home run records. The Gophers also inked Benton Community's Amber Fiser, who allowed four earned runs in nearly 173 2/3 innings with 313 strikeouts last year.
'We spend a lot time in the state watching softball,' Minnesota Coach Jessica Allister said. 'It's not that far of a drive for the family. I can't even begin to tell you how long we've been watching them.'
Wisconsin signed Solon's Sydney Lawson, who led Class 3A in runs scored (81) and steals (59) in 2015 while hitting .552. Waukee pitcher Kaitlyn Menz (504 career strikeouts) also signed with the Badgers. Waukee pitcher Sarah Schaefer, a junior this summer, committed to Michigan in 2017.
The talent exodus is galling for many Iowa fans. On former coach Gayle Blevins' 2009 squad, the last Iowa team to qualify for the NCAA tournament, there were eight Iowans on the Hawkeyes' roster. There are three this year. Iowa has four players from California and three from Texas on its roster.
'The learning curve is a little bit steeper,' Iowa Coach Marla Looper said about Iowa high school players. 'I don't think there's worse talent or better talent at other places. It's when we're recruiting, what is it you need to replace, how much time do we have to do that, how quickly do you think that person you replace them with can develop?'
According to numbers obtained by The Gazette via state open-records laws, Iowa spent $45,390 on softball recruiting in fiscal 2015. That's the second-most in the Big Ten, only $1,500 behind Michigan State.
Looper said she pursues many instate players, but several have chosen to leave the state for life experiences.
'I'm never going to question a student-athlete on their reason for choosing one place over another,' she said. 'Do I always ask, 'Where did we fall short or what could we have done do to better?' Most of them say, 'This system fits more with what I do better.' OK, there's no shame in that.
'We've recruited fairly heavily in the state. A lot of times kids we've gotten locally say, 'You know coach, I'm ready to get away. I want to get out. I want to see something new, be something at some other place.''
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