CORONAVIRUS

Iowa softball had rounded third before getting stop sign

Hawkeyes were on their way to best season in a long time

Iowa head softball coach Renee Gillispie speaks to the infield at the pitchers mound during a game at Pearl Field in Iow
Iowa head softball coach Renee Gillispie speaks to the infield at the pitchers mound during a game at Pearl Field in Iowa City on May 4, 2019. (The Gazette)

For the people in sports who had their seasons prematurely ended by the coronavirus pandemic, the trick is to leave behind the what-might-have-been and go straight to focusing on the future.

Easier said than done, of course.

The University of Iowa’s softball team, for instance, had left the fog the program had been in and was seeing sunshine. After six straight losing seasons that included a Big Ten record of 40-97, the 2020 Hawkeyes played like the many good Iowa clubs of the past.

Iowa was 17-5 when the season ended, getting great pitching and hitting. Freshman Nia Carter was hitting a Big Ten-best .509 and freshman Kalena Burns had popped five home runs and driven in 20 runs.

Senior pitcher Allison Doocy of Ankeny was 7-2 with 103 strikeouts in 68 1/3 innings. Junior hurler Lauren Shaw was 9-2.

In her second season as Iowa’s coach, Renee Gillispie appeared to have pulled the Hawkeyes to the level of many of her UCF clubs. She coached there for 18 years before taking the Iowa job, and led the Knights to seven NCAA tournaments.

When the Hawkeyes’ season ended in mid-March, Gillispie said, “we were playing like champions. In the past we were going through the motions, not really understanding how to compete.

“That’s been the hardest piece of this puzzle, seeing how these players were stepping up.”

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Under Gillispie, Iowa quickly became a program that doesn’t mess around. She took her team to Florida for a week in January for spring training and team bonding. In the middle of that week, the Hawkeyes completed a beach workout conducted by Marine Corps Officer Cory Ross that involved running sprints through sand, carrying sandbags, and completing other exercises.

Then came the season. Iowa played in South Carolina, Georgia, Hawaii and Florida. Focus clearly wasn’t a problem, since the Hawkeyes swept their five games in Honolulu.

The Big Ten season and home season would have begun March 19, and it seems obvious to say Iowa would have vastly improved on last year’s 5-18 conference mark.

“I think we would have done some damage,” Gillispie said. “It’s been hard to look at the schedule. There’s that feeling of missing out. But there’s nothing you can do. Control what you can control, focus on the next step.”

She said her job “is about 10 percent on the field. The rest is recruiting, scheduling, developing travel plans, and taking care of the players.”

The players, in the prime of their athletic lives, are watching a spring go by.

“I think the players are all different,” said Gillispie. “For the seniors, it’s a sinking feeling. This is it, this is how we end the season.

“The players are suffering from boredom. There’s anger, frustration, sadness, every emotion.

“They started (online) classes Monday, so they can get back in a routine. In this dead period they almost felt lost with no classes, structure.”

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Gillispie has six seniors. She said some have jobs lined up and won’t be coming back though the NCAA ruled Monday to give spring-sport athletes another season of eligibility. Others like Doocy, who is in graduate school, would be open to returning.

The coach is trying to stay connected to all her players and her nine 2020 recruits.

“We’re teaching them this is part of life, being able to understand how to handle it, focusing on what we can do right now, and just getting through it.”

Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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