By Anna Kayser
Since the start of Big Ten play on March 23, Iowa softball has managed to remain at .500 with a huge conference series beginning today and three more to follow.
The Hawkeyes have the potential to go far in the Big Ten tournament but will have to play their best softball from this point forward.
Coming off of a split doubleheader at Nebraska on Tuesday, Iowa has the tools to seriously compete with Minnesota at home, with the first game coming today at 6 p.m. The Hawkeyes will then face the Gophers Friday at 5 p.m., with the finale on Saturday at 2 p.m.
Following that Big Ten matchup, Iowa will take on Western Illinois in a midweek home game before traveling to Illinois.
A matchup against Iowa State will end nonconference games (with the exception of a to-be-determined make-up date versus Northern Iowa) on April 25, giving Iowa plenty of time to prepare for the six final Big Ten games.
Northwestern and Purdue are last in the regular-season slate before the Big Ten Tournament.
The conference title could be Iowa’s for the taking if it rises to the occasion.
To begin the Big Ten season, Iowa split a two-game series with then-No. 17 Michigan. The Wolverines are at the top of the conference, with their only Big Ten loss coming against the Hawkeyes. They are followed up by Indiana, Illinois, and Minnesota.
Northwestern is also ahead of Iowa in the conference with a 6-5 record.
“There’s not an easy game in the Big Ten,” head coach Marla Looper said. “There never has been, and there never is this year. We’ve got a really tough slate ahead of us, and we’ve got to take one game at a time, one pitch at a time, and not look too far ahead, and not look to the past, either, other than to learn from the past and how we project toward the future.”
A problem for Iowa is that when the offense falters, the pitching and defense isn’t enough to win games. It was swept by Maryland in three low-scoring games because of a lack of adjustments.
However, it was proven that the offense could bounce back the weekend after against Wisconsin.
“We knew we had a lot of stuff to work on,” catcher Angela Schmiederer said. “We had a pretty long week of practice, so we got to kind of zone-in on the things that we needed to, and I think everyone did a good job making the adjustment that we failed to do [against Maryland].”
With lineup shifts and the team finally buying into a season-long process, it’s possible that could change.
Iowa recorded its last winning season in 2013. This season, the team already has as many wins as it did a year ago.
Big Ten action is critical to maintain an upward trend and prove the Hawkeyes aren’t a lost cause with Looper at the helm.
“I think being able to turn it around [is big], and we knew that leaving Maryland,” Looper said. “Now we know we can be relaxed, but we have to have a slight edge along with that relaxation, and we have to bring that every time we step onto the field.”