Gillispie set to lead Iowa softball

A tumultuous decade for Iowa softball is now behind it. First-year head coach Renee Gillispie is bringing culture, tradition, and fun back to the diamond.


Katina Zentz

Softball head coach Renee Gillispie talks to the media during Softball Media Day at the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Complex on Friday, February 1, 2019.

Pete Mills, Assistant Sports Editor

Turning to a new page is common in athletics. New seasons present different challenges, players and coaches come and go, and every game tells a different story.

Iowa softball, though, is in the unique position of writing its own story this season. With a new coaching staff and new players, the team looks entirely different from what it did a year ago.

First-year head coach Renee Gillispie is ready for a new chapter of Hawkeye softball, and it’s quite clear her players are buying into it.

“If you don’t buy in, we can’t all move forward together,” utility player Aralee Bogar said. “Everyone knowing that she is doing what’s best for our program is a huge key for our success.”

The mission that the players buy into is beginning with recruiting. Last year’s roster included fewer than half of the Hawkeye players calling Iowa home, so establishing a new culture of retaining Iowa players is a deep focus of the coaching staff.

“Our first priority was to keep the Iowa kids in Iowa,” Gillispie said. “We have a great group of 2019 kids that we signed in November, a lot of them from Iowa. The 2020 class, that we’ve already got verbally committed, majority are from Iowa.”

It’s not unusual for first-year coaches to have a difficult time in gaining respect from veteran players. This has not been the case with Gillispie’s squad.

She reached into her past for help in taking control of the program, hiring her high-school coach, Rick Dillinger, as an assistant. Dillinger was chosen as the National Softball Coach of the Year in 2004.

This spirit of winning — brought to the forefront by Dillinger and Gillispie — reaches its way into everyday practice, and veteran players have taken notice.

“[The culture] has been more relaxed but more competitive at the same time,” pitcher Erin Riding said. “We’re very fun, we’re a very good chemistry group. We also have the sense of holding each other to a higher standard because of this new coaching staff.”

It’s a relatively young team with only two seniors — Riding and Mallory Kilian — on the squad.

Gillispie is confident, though, that leadership will not be an issue for Iowa softball. There are some dominant returning players who will be able to carry the team a long way.

Junior pitcher Allison Doocy posted a 2.21 ERA on her way to 12 wins last season for the Hawkeyes. As a freshman in 2018, Bogar slugged .371 and hit for a .279 average. The 2019 team also features a transfer in DoniRae Mayhew, who was the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Player of the Year last season at Kirkwood.

Even with numerous graduations and a new coaching staff, the team has a lot it can build upon immediately with Gillispie at the helm.

Surrounding all of this has been a sense of nostalgia and homecoming for the new head coach. Though she served as head coach of Central Florida for 18 years and won seven AAC conference championships there, she has always called Iowa home.

I’m excited to come back and get this program back to the strength it was before. [I want] to be able to take this group all the way.

“It’s a lifetime dream to be able to come back to Iowa,” she said. “I’m excited to come back and get this program back to the strength it was before. [I want] to be able to take this group all the way.”