By Anna Kayser and Jim Geerdes
Rebuilding the culture
The biggest problem with softball might not be the play on the field but the culture in the program.
Let’s face it, Iowa softball is now notorious for being bad. The volleyball team was in the same boat just five years ago, but the increase in intensity from the coaching staff has produced a steadily growing culture.
Renee Gillispie can be the one to turn it around on the diamond, but she first has to work on what the program means to the players and fans.
Iowa volleyball’s culture of True Mental Toughness fuels what the athletes do on and off the court, the Swarm football mentality embodies all of Iowa football, and Hellerball shows the change in baseball that a coach can bring.
Gillispie needs to set a precedent for how the program is going to grow under her leadership, and the culture is the way to introduce her reign.
At the end of Iowa’s disappointing 2018 season, it was hard to think the team cared about the game at all, let alone winning.
Winning has been absent for the culture for so long that for anything to change, the players need to learn to love the game and to expect the best out of anything.
Sparking an offense
Gillispie won’t have a hard time filling her team’s practice schedule. After Iowa softball finished last in nearly every Big Ten category, it can improve across the board.
But where does Gillispie’s work begin? What does the team need to focus on?
Softball is a game of fundamentals. It’s catch, throw, and hit. Each of these categories can be improved on in Iowa’s case, but one stands out. Iowa fell far too short in the hitting section of that brief list this last season. Staggeringly, Iowa finished last in the conference in batting average, runs, hits, doubles, and home runs.
Not only were the Hawkeyes the worst in one offensive category, they were the worst in five categories. Somehow, ace pitcher Allison Doocy repeatedly dug the team out of holes and compensated for her team’s lack of offensive prowess.
Yet it seemed that every gem Doocy pitched was forgotten because of flustered hitting. She famously threw a 1-hitter and earned a loss against a less-than-stellar Western Illinois team. Quality start after quality start was wasted.
Iowa’s offense repeatedly failed to produce. It was evident again in the series against Purdue in early May. Iowa scored 1 run in three games — against a team with a 5.94 ERA. Iowa simply failed to put runners on base and bring them home.
Now Gillispie is faced with the challenge of how to fix it. Will she be able turn a program around? Well, Iowa’s offense will be the key.