By James Geerdes
Out with the old and in with the new.
By no means did the Hawkeye softball team light up the stat sheets this past season, but two replacements and a new player could alter that.
Iowa softball’s coaching staff has received a full revamp following a series of losing seasons and poor play. Renee Gillispie took the helm in May and added Trena Prater as an assistant coach on July 3. The additions follow a number of losing seasons under previous head coach Marla Looper.
Both Gillispie and Prater bring strong résumés to the Hawkeye table. As the head coach of Central Florida, Gillispie compiled a 625-403-1 record. The .608 winning record trumps Iowa’s .273 in 2018. Handily.
Gillispie brings more than just victories with her — she brings consistency. At Central Florida, her team won five conference championships and advanced to seven NCAA regionals, including four-straight regional finals. She has also averaged more than 36 wins per season since starting the Knights’ Division 1 program in 2002. Under Looper, Iowa averaged just under 22 wins in her eight years at the helm.
Prater, whose primary responsibilities include coaching hitting and outfielders, followed Gillispie from Central Florida.
With Prater’s help in 2018, the Knights hit for a .257 average, with 29 home runs. Iowa, on the other hand, hit .226 in 2018 with just 16 homers. Prater will need to pump up those numbers to contend in the Big Ten.
If Gillispie and Prater could match their numbers at Central Florida, Iowa would still only attain 11th in the Big Ten offensively. But hitting alone doesn’t win ballgames. A combination of Iowa’s successful pitching during the 2018 season and the incoming offensive boost could push Iowa softball into the winning column.
In 2018, Iowa averaged 2.88 runs per game. With the Knights in 2018, Gillispie and Prater averaged 3.66. In 2018, Iowa posted a 2.35 ERA — the third best in the Big Ten. If Iowa can match Central Florida’s hitting and keep its ERA down, it has the potential to be a force in the Big Ten.
More additions are on the way than just coaches. Iowa commitment DoniRae Mayhew was named the 2018 Schutt Sports/NFCA Junior College National Player of the year. Mayhew, a native of Bettendorf, led Kirkwood Community College offensively, batting .446 with 18 doubles and NJCAA-leading 30 homers. She knocked a 1.079 slugging percentage and put up 90 RBIs. Her home runs alone at Kirkwood nearly doubled Iowa’s 16 in 2018.
Mayhew was also a force in the circle for the Eagles. She amassed a 20-3 record with a 2.08 ERA, tallying 127 strikeouts in 148 innings. Alongside Hawkeye junior Allison Doocy, who put up a 1.81 ERA her sophomore season, Mayhew could be a useful addition as a pitcher as well.
Gillispie and Prater may provide the coaching spark needed to become a power in the Big Ten, while Mayhew’s two years of eligibility at Iowa could be added to a newly invigorated cast of Iowa athletes in 2019 — but only proverbial time will tell.
The fall slate for Iowa softball will begin in mid-September. And then we will see if the additions can turn a struggling program around.