March 21, 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 -- The University of Iowa softball team will check its 5-13 overall record at the door before entering the dugout at Eichelberger field in Champaign, Ill., this weekend. The squad's Big Ten-opening series at Illinois on March 21-23 marks the beginning of a new season and a clean slate for the Hawkeyes.
"It is a clean slate and a new season," said fourth-year UI head coach Marla Looper. "It's an opportunity to go do something we haven't done yet, and Iowa hasn't done in a few years. Conference is a big deal and opening up at Illinois will be good for us. We've learned a few things through the preseason, and I think we're ready to put those lessons to work."
While the team's 5-13 record seems disappointing, the Hawkeyes have challenged several nationally- ranked opponents and teams receiving votes in national polls. Iowa battled with then-ranked No. 14/18 Missouri for eight innings on Feb. 14 before falling by a score of 2-1, and held its own against then-ranked No. 14/16 Baylor on Feb. 15, but was ultimately defeated 2-0.
The Hawkeyes have also dropped contests to teams receiving votes this season including Lipscomb on Feb. 14 (10-0 in five innings), UAB on Feb. 15 (6-1 in nine innings), and Mississippi State on Feb. 21 (2-0), Feb. 22 (5-0), and Feb. 23 (9-1 in five innings).
Two of Iowa's 13 losses have come in extra innings, two losses have been by one run, and two have been by two runs.
Iowa's signature win came last weekend when the Hawkeyes completed a comeback at Texas on Sunday afternoon. Senior Michelle Zoeller hit her first career grand slam to push the Hawkeyes ahead of the Longhorns in the top of the seventh inning, and the Iowa defense closed out the bottom half of the inning to secure the 6-5 final victory. Freshman pitcher Shayla Starkenburg earned the win in the circle, bringing her record to 2-2 on the season.
"We've been in some ball games that the team or maybe other people didn't think we could be in," Looper said. "We've taken some games that people didn't think we could. The biggest thing we've learned is that we can get the job done if we believe in our abilities and our preparation. We're more prepared now than we were two months ago, and the team is starting to see that now. They have to trust and believe it and then it will come to fruition."
The Hawkeyes are excited to turn their season around in Big Ten play and know that there are still opportunities for them to achieve success this year.
"It's exciting because we haven't had the best start," said redshirt sophomore Holly Hoffman. "Conference is our chance to show what we're really made of. A clean start is exactly what we need, and I think we're going to take advantage of it."
For one Hawkeye, this series is much more than a fresh start, it's a family rivalry. Sophomore Whitney Repole's twin sister, Katie, plays for the Fighting Illini.
"It's already a deep rivalry because it's a Big Ten series," sophomore Whitney Repole said. "The fact that my sister will be on the other side of the field gives me some extra incentive and I have a little more pride when I go into this series. I'm ready to go out there and take it to them."
Iowa begins its series at Illinois with a 4 p.m. (CT) game Friday. The series concludes with a 1 p.m. doubleheader Saturday. Fans can follow along with the games through live audio and Gametracker available on the softball schedule page of hawkeyesports.com.