Iowa softball freshmen adjusting to unusual fall

Iowa softball has 10 freshmen on the team for the 2020-21 season.


Jenna Galligan

Iowa Head Coach Renee Gillespie walks to join the team during an Iowa softball game against Iowa Central at Pearl Field on Friday, October 4, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Tritons 4-0 in 10 innings.

Chloe Peterson, Sports Reporter

Iowa softball boasts 10 freshmen on its roster for the upcoming season, making up almost half of the entire team. Those freshman stepped off an unusual end to their high school careers and are having to adapt to a unique start to their college ones.

Because of COVID-19, the softball program had to make multiple changes to its fall practice schedule, including weekly testing and wearing masks during practice. Instead of its typical eight game fall schedule against other schools, the team has turned to intrasquad scrimmages to test its strength.

Although freshman utility player Lindy Milkowski enjoyed being in a game environment, she said the typical pressure of a game wasn’t there.

“It’s kind of hard to see where I would be on the depth chart, because you have to flip up,” Milkowski said. “In a regular game, I have to fight for a spot with three people, but now I only have to fight for a spot with one person, or something like that. It makes it a little bit more flexible to try and get people the reps they need and see live pitching, but also it’s not going to feel the same because you’re not facing off against the actual pressure of another school.”

The softball team has had to deal with many pandemic-related issues, but freshman utility player Denali Loecker said in a way it has brought the team closer together.

“[About] 90 percent of the team has had it, I’d say,” Loecker said. “We’re always missing out on a couple players, so we kind of stay connected with them when they’re in quarantine, like give them quarantine box gifts or just ask if they need anything and we’ll drop it off at the door if they do. We’ve kind of built a bond, even more because they can’t be there [at practice] and we want them there.”

Because of increased protocols, the team has had minimal opportunities to bond outside of practice. Loecker said the team has utilized FaceTime and Zoom to stay connected, and the program also implemented a ‘buddy system’ to pair newcomers to the team with upperclassmen.

Through all of the uncertainty this year, head coach Renee Gillispie said she was proud of how the freshmen were adjusting.

“I think they realize they’re all in this together,” she said.

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Starting out in the program, the coaching staff makes sure all players know two or three defensive positions on the field. Gillispie said she does this to make sure she is able to put out her best offense with her best defense.

Milkowski played catcher, first base, and third base on her club team, so learning new positions hasn’t been an issue for her.

But Loecker focused on pitching in high school, and only played a little bit of first base. In practice, she’s still adjusting to playing at first.

“I knew how to play [first], just from travel we would get thrown everywhere,” Loecker said. “I’m still learning and adjusting… but it’s just taking a ground ball so it’s not that different.”

This year, the team is ending fall practice a couple weeks early. Typically, the team holds practices up until finals week, but Gillispie said with players returning home for Thanksgiving she didn’t want to risk spreading COVID-19.

Milkowski is going back to her hometown of Olathe, Kansas, for Thanksgiving and through the end of the semester and winter break. She noted that she will still be able to work out at a gym near her house, but she really wants to work on her mental game over the extended break.

“I try to work on my physical and then my technical skills, but also I try to work on my mental game in the offseason,” Milkowski said. “Just working on being really mindful and work on visualization because that’s a really big part of how to be just an effective athlete.”

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