Jan. 20, 2014
Editor's Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa's Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.
By JIL PRICE
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Some teams take the first few weeks of the season to form as a team against lesser opponents, but the University of Iowa softball team takes a different approach. The Hawkeyes begin their season by taking on the best, and rely on the challenging preconference slate to fuse and solidify their squad for Big Ten Conference action.
Playing the best has afforded the Hawkeyes some positive results as they posted six victories over ranked opponents -- No. 11 Louisiana-Lafayette (13-10), No. 15 Stanford (7-6), No. 24 Oregon State (9-3), No. 11 Louisville (6-2), No. 21 Kentucky (3-1), and No. 19 Nebraska (6-2) -- during the 2013 season.
Fourth-year head coach Marla Looper believes the team's ability to achieve successful results when going cleat-to-cleat with the best will help the 2014 squad's approach.
"The best part about it is that it isn't intimidating for the girls," Looper said. "We try to play the toughest schedule from the beginning of the season. If you play the best and you start beating the best then you become the best. I don't want to back down from those great teams, and I don't want the team to back down from those great teams. That is how you become the team that people want to knock off.
"Getting on the field with some of those teams has given our team a lot of confidence. It shows us that we can be in the game with them. We put in the same time that they do, put on our cleats the same way and have the same opportunity that they do. When we started knocking them off, it added more fuel to the fire. It allows them to step on the field confident in their abilities to compete with anybody."
In 18 days, Iowa will be in South Carolina for its season debut. The Hawkeyes will take on UNC Greensboro, Presbyterian, Ohio, and the Gamecocks -- members of the Southeastern Conference who have made 15 NCAA postseason appearances.
Iowa follows opening weekend with five games at the Getterman Classic against Lipscomb, East Carolina, UAB, Baylor, and Drake. Tournament host Baylor punched a tournament ticket and competed in the NCAA Regional a year ago.
After a three-game series at Mississippi State, the Hawkeyes continue their road swing at the University of Arizona Tournament where Iowa will clash with Valparaiso, UT Arlington, Longwood, and the eight-time national champion Wildcats. The Hawkeyes head to Texas for their final preconference stretch where they will tangle with the Longhorns -- five-time Women's College World Series qualifiers -- and Texas State.
The Hawkeyes want to establish positive momentum to start the season and maintain their edge through the Big Ten slate to punch their first ticket to the NCAA Regional since 2009 and restore a winning culture for Iowa softball.
"Iowa used to be one of the predominant teams in the country," Looper said. "We want to get back there. There is no reason we can't compete for a Big Ten Championship or a regular spot in the postseason."