May 11, 2012
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.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Marla Looper's message isn't wavering, especially with her University of Iowa softball team needing a three-game sweep to reach a Big Ten Conference title.
"They're not going to hear anything different from me and the coaches," said Looper, the Hawkeyes' head coach. "It's one game, one inning, one out, one pitch... that's all it is. We have to take care of it before anything else can happen."
The Hawkeyes head to Minneapolis for a three-game series at Minnesota with a 25-25 overall record and a 14-7 mark in conference play. Michigan holds a 1 1/2 game lead in the Big Ten standings, and it hosts third-place Purdue in Ann Arbor, Mich., for three games Saturday and Sunday.
The Gophers are 30-20 overall and are ninth in the league with a 9-12 mark. Four of Minnesota's nine conference wins came against Michigan and Purdue.
"The mindset needs to be no different than any other series we've gone out to play," said Looper. "Is that going to be challenging to go one game, one pitch at a time? Yes, but the more we think about too big of picture, the less we'll be able to take care of at that moment.
"My dad always joked with me saying 'It's tough to win them all without winning the first one.' It's exactly what it is. You can't win three if you don't take care of the one you're in at the moment. We have to really focus about the moment and being in the moment."
Looper relishes the opportunity to be in the middle of the title race. She wants her team to finish strong, rather than just finishing.
"It's exciting that we're actually in the race," she said. "We are in a race, and it's not just to be the last one to cross the finish line. We're in the race to win.
"This team has the ability and opportunity to do something that hasn't been done since 2003 at Iowa. Yes, something else has to happen, but if we don't do what we need do, it doesn't matter what happens on the outside of us."
Outside of the Big Ten battle, the Hawkeyes are on the "bubble" to earn an NCAA Regional berth. If Iowa wins the Big Ten title, it will receive the automatic berth, but to earn an at-large bid, the Hawkeyes need to sweep or win 2-of-3 games to finish with a record above .500 to be considered.
"The challenge of this weekend is knowing that even if we finish in the top-three (of the Big Ten), but we don't win two minimum or three games, we won't go to the postseason," said Looper. "We have the chance to secure our own fate and not have to rely on everyone in the conference to help us secure our fate.
"To win the conference outright, we need some help, but we can still secure our fate without that, and that's nice to have."
Iowa opens the three-game series at Minnesota tonight at 7 p.m. (CT), and the game will be televised live on the Big Ten Network. Saturday's doubleheader begins at 2 p.m., and both games can be seen live at BTN.com.