Hawkeye softball's Hoffman getting jump start on college career


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The Iowa softball team is half a game behind Michigan in the Big Ten standings, and the Hawkeyes have three games to try to jump ahead of the Wolverines. Final exams will be over for the athletes and they can focus entirely on softball — and on winning the Big Ten.

But freshman Holly Hoffman has another thing on her mind: prom.

Hoffman graduated from Penn High in Indiana a semester early so she could train and practice with the Hawkeyes this spring. Her high school will still allow her to walk at graduation and go to prom.

"I knew how much I could improve by coming early and working with the coaches before I have to play," Hoffman said. "I like that I know what is expected of me already, [and] that I know this team before my first year of playing."

The freshman health and human physiology major said academics played a significant role in her decision to come to college early. But having the chance to be present for the exciting parts of her senior year and know she wouldn't have to completely miss out on the "high-school experience" also played a role for Iowa's future catcher and infielder.

The experience Hoffman has gained from training with senior catcher Liz Watkins will likely have an effect on her entire career. Watkins is a Hawkeye great, with her 133 career RBIs and 27 home runs and her ability to lead the team from behind the plate. She's teaching it all to Hoffman.

"Holly is like my little sister," Watkins said. "She's my little sister's age, and she's out here playing on the same field as I am. It has been so beneficial for her to come out here early — I've seen firsthand how much she has improved. I kind of wish I would have done it, just to play under the older catchers."

Head coach Marla Looper said she's excited her young player has the chance to watch this year's senior class before Watkins and Katie Keim are gone from the program in the fall.

Softball is a game of strategy and experience just as much as it is a game of physicality and skill, she said. Because Hoffman is watching the team play for a season before having to pick up a bat or glove herself, she's getting a jump-start on the rest of the class of 2016 by learning Hawkeye softball from the sidelines.

"She's observing, she's learning, she's asking questions," Looper said. "She's improving every day just from being here … It's hard to sit on the sidelines and just watch, but she's coming with a good mindset that she's here to study, to take some notes and put them her mental notebook for next year."

Watkins is 22 years old; Hoffman recently turned 18. But Looper said the youngster hasn't struggled at all to fit into the program.

"Every once in a while, she'll say something that reminds us that she's still a senior in high school. We joke about that," Looper said. "But she fits in perfectly with what we've got here. Just like people's little sisters, they pick on her, and she picks back. She connects from seniors down to current freshmen."

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