Gillispie crafting winning culture for Iowa softball

Iowa softball has struggled for the last decade, but new staff and talent look to buck that trend.


Jenna Galligan

Iowa fielder Lea Thompson receives coaching from head coach Renee Gillispie after striking out during the conference opening softball game at Pearl Field on Friday, March 29, 2019. The Wildcats defeated the Hawkeyes 5-0.

Ben Palya, Sports Reporter

Throughout her career, Iowa softball head coach Renee Gillispie has changed the fortunes of softball programs across the nation. 

She transformed Bradley into a Missouri Valley Conference powerhouse and helped Texas Tech ascend to the top of the Big 12. She even contributed to the establishment of UCF’s softball program. 

Gillispie now aims to guide the Hawkeyes to greener pastures.

“Coming into Iowa was what I have done for every job I have ever had,” Gillispie said. 

Historically, Hawkeye softball has been one of Iowa’s most successful programs. Under legendary head coach Gayle Blevins, the Hawkeyes went 945-440-3. Blevins guided Iowa to four college World Series appearances, five Big Ten titles, and 16 postseason appearances. 

After Blevins’ departure, the Hawkeyes have struggled. Iowa has not appeared in the postseason in over ten years, and the team has not had a winning season since 2013. 

Iowa’s second-year coaching staff and recently replenished roster now look to restore Iowa softball to its former glory.

“Every program I’ve gone to, you kind of understand it takes time,” Gillispie said. “It also takes an understanding of seeing the big picture and understanding what it takes on a daily basis to get there.” 

A solid cast of newcomers that includes several junior college players is reshaping Iowa softball’s culture.

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Junior Mia Ruther is in the midst of her first season at the Division I level with Iowa. She found some success with Des Moines Area Community College, finishing third in the country with a 48-2 record. That success has translated to Iowa so far. The junior boasts a .370 batting average after recording 10 hits in her first seven games. 

“One thing I took from playing in a winning culture was knowing even when you are down, you never have doubts that you can come back and win the game,” Ruther said. “It’s a comfortability of being in a losing situation in some innings but knowing we can comeback.”

Lauren Shaw has been around the program for a longer period of time than Ruther. The pitcher had a strong freshman campaign on the mound, finishing sixth in the Big Ten in hits allowed across her 14 starts. 

“Last year, we struggled a little bit, but it was our first year, and everyone was kind of getting used to each other,” Shaw said. “It shows everyone grows more together, and we have a bunch of newcomers that bring in new energy and brand new coaching staff bringing in new energy, and we’re all just putting it together.”

The new energy has been apparent throughout the season, especially in regard to pitching. Iowa’s experienced rotation has been brilliant. 

This weekend, the Hawkeyes travel to Hawaii for another weekend tournament. The team’s resilience will be tested by long flights, jet lag, and time changes, but this is a team that is capable of fighting back and taking difficulties in stride. The Hawkeyes’ new philosophy will help them in the face of any adversity.

“I’m excited where we are right now, I think the girls are really buying into and understanding what we are capable of,” Gillispie said. 

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