CEDAR RAPIDS — Haley McFarlane calls the Iowa Women’s Softball League “one in a million.”
That’s because it’s an opportunity college softball players in the Midwest can’t find anywhere else.
McFarlane, a former Cedar Rapids Prairie prep who plays at St. Cloud State, and fellow Ironside Apparel teammate Jordyn Kleman, who plays at Winona State, are taking advantage of a chance to play against good competition and improve at the game they love.
Kleman, from La Crosse, Wis., drives three hours to Mount Mercy’s Busse Field and back on Sundays to get a few games in.
“There’s nowhere else to play,” Kleman said. “There’s no league like this in Wisconsin or Minnesota.”
In the summer of 2016, IWSL director Jim Ecker noticed just that.
“(The IWSL) kind of grew out of a casual conversation I was having with a friend whose daughter was playing college softball,” Ecker said. “I asked what she was doing all summer and he said he was doing ground balls and pitching with her, but other than that, she wasn’t doing much of anything.”
The league started play in 2017, and, in its third year, offers dozens of players from every division to come together to maintain and sharpen their skills.
“It’s good to face live hitters. You can throw pitching workouts, but it’s nothing like a game,” Kleman said.
McFarlane said the same about hitting against live pitchers, although neither woman has trouble against high-level competition.
And even though the league is game-like, the players enjoy spending time with friends, former teammates and women who are normally opponents.
“It’s really just to get better, have fun and keep your skills up,” McFarlane said. “It’s competitive, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not do or die.”
Ecker said the IWSL has the perfect environment for experienced players and incoming freshmen alike.
“You see a light go on for younger players,” Ecker said. “When a player gets a hit against a high-level pitcher, you see her confidence level grow. She thinks, ‘hey, I am good enough to play at this level.’”
Whether a player grew up in Cedar Rapids or makes weekly drives from a neighboring state, the Iowa Women’s Softball League is a special place for athletes that is establishing a larger foothold for college softball in the Midwest.
Players have found a new home for the game they love.
“Anything for softball,” McFarlane said.