Feb. 25, 2014
Editor's note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Thursday, Aug. 8, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2013-14 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Playing softball was always the right fit for Brianna Luna. So was attending the University of Iowa.
Luna, a senior from Indio, Calif. (located 23 miles east of Palm Springs), picked up a T-ball bat at the age of four and essentially never set it down. She also played basketball, but softball felt special.
"I knew I wanted to go to school for softball," Luna said. "I love the competitiveness, and I'm just a little bit better at softball than I am at basketball."
Picking a primary sport to play was about as easy as picking an institution where she would receive her undergraduate education.
Recruited by former UI head coach Gayle Blevins, Luna wanted to experience a difference from Indio's 348 days of sunshine a year, summer highs above 108 degrees, and less than four inches of annual precipitation.
"I was fortunate to be recruited by Iowa, and when I came on my visit, it was a home away from home," Luna said. "The atmosphere was amazing. Going to the football game, interacting with the softball team, touring the campus, seeing the facilities, I was sold. I knew from that point that I wanted to be a Hawkeye."
Luna came to the UI after being named to the All-Desert Valley League four times in softball. During that span, Luna led LaQuinta High School to a league record of 52-3, and she batted .430 with 12 home runs.
"You get young student-athletes coming in as freshmen and they are in a new world," UI head coach Marla Looper said. "She had to learn to get on her own feet quickly, and over these four years she has matured in believing she can do things on her own and being proactive on the field and off the field, academically, socially, and finding her niche with her teammates.
"She is the ultimate team player; her softball growth has been huge. She has played a lot of positions for us and has done it with an open mind, open heart and a spirit of `Coach, I want to do what I can to help the team.'"
As a Hawkeye, Luna has started in right field, at third base, first base and designated player. Two of Luna's most memorable games occurred during her freshman season in 2011. The first was when Iowa hosted Northwestern and the Hawkeyes were down to their final out, trailing by a run. Looper inserted Luna as a pinch-hitter and she delivered a game-tying double; the Hawkeyes won the game in eight innings.
A second highlight came a week later when Iowa traveled to Michigan and knocked off the top-ranked Wolverines, 4-2.
For Luna, the start of her senior season has come to a pause as she recovers from a knee injury sustained while trying to score during a season-opening 5-0 win against UNC Greensboro. In the bottom of the sixth inning, Luna rounded third base following Megan Blank's single to right.
"When I tried to get around the tag, my cleat got stuck in the dirt and my knee tweaked a little bit," Luna said. "Stuff like that happens in sports. We're taking it day-by-day. Worst case scenario, I'll be back by conference."
The Big Ten season begins March 21 for the Hawkeyes and Luna expects to be back at full strength. After playing 119 games, starting 103 times, and leading the Hawkeyes to 85 wins, Luna is temporarily relegated to a seat in the dugout.
"It was nice to know hard work paid off and I was able to contribute to my team winning," Luna said. "Seeing that and being hurt and watching from the bench is unfortunate. As much as I would like to be out there, I have to keep a positive vibe and keep my teammates up because we feed off the energy. I won't be helping my team if I am pouting on the sidelines. I will do whatever I can from the bench to help my team."
Looper expects the Hawkeyes to be improved when Luna returns to the lineup in her leadoff position.
"I would like her to be a table-setter and get the team pumped up," Looper said. "Not necessarily a rah-rah cheerleader, but she does bring a big presence with her chest out, her shoulders back and she believes in herself even when she struggles. She is kind of like a duck: she lets the water drop off her back and sheds it quickly. That is what has allowed her to grow so much."
As a freshman, Luna batted .178 in 35 games. During her sophomore season she hit .172 in 41 games and was 4-for-4 in stolen bases. Last season Luna batted .223, setting career highs in games played (42), games started (39), at bats (103), runs (18) hits (23), RBIs (12) and fielding percentage (.982).
With Luna on the UI roster, the Hawkeyes have posted three straight winning seasons. What they haven't done is qualify for an NCAA Regional, something that isn't lost on Luna or the two other seniors on the team.
"We're taking baby steps," Luna said. "We're trying to get wins, keep everything simple and taking it one game at a time. Hopefully during our conference season we're able to be Big Ten champions and not have to rely on the Big Ten Tournament to try to get into regionals. Our goal right now is to get to regionals. From then, we'll go from there."