Iowa softball coaches back out on recruiting trail

After an extended ‘dead period’ for recruiting from the NCAA, Iowa softball coaches are traveling the state and country again for new softball recruits.



Iowa players lead a chant with fans after a softball game between Iowa and Nebraska on Sunday, May 9, 2021 at Bob Pearl Softball Field. The Hawkeyes defeated the Cornhuskers  4-1.

Isaac Goffin, Sports Reporter

It has been a busy summer for the Iowa softball coaching staff with in-person recruiting back in full swing.

After the NCAA suspended in-person visits for prospective student-athletes and live evaluations of recruits for coaches in March of 2020 because of COVID-19 concerns, the “dead period” for in-person recruiting ended on June 1

Since the restrictions ended, Hawkeye softball head coach Renee Gillispie, along with associate head coach Trena Prater and assistant coach Rick Dillinger, have been traveling across the state and country to see potential recruits.

“It’s fantastic being out,” Gillispie said last week while at the high school state softball tournament in Fort Dodge. “In some ways you feel like you’re probably a little behind, but I think you’re in the same boat. Even the players not being able to get the season in, the high school players not getting their seasons in last year, you can see that they’re still getting back into things too.”

Gillispie said she took three days off in June and will take around five days off in July from recruiting — her staff is trying to see as many athletes as possible in the recruiting period.

For her recruiting strategy, Gillispie said, her staff tries to get the top five players in Iowa from each class. The softball team usually has scholarships for four to five players each year.

Although Gillispie thinks Hawkeye softball has a good handle on the top players in the state, she acknowledged the good competition coming from other Division I schools in Iowa — Drake, Iowa State, and Northern Iowa. Gillispie is also seeing Southeastern Conference programs coming into Iowa to recruit players.

Heading into the 2021-22 season, Gillispie said the Hawkeyes will have 30 days of team practice over 45 days during the fall. The Hawkeyes will play 10-inning exhibition games throughout the fall season against local teams — Indian Hills Community College, Kirkwood Community College, and Des Moines Area Community College. Iowa will also play the other three Division I schools in the state at Northern Iowa in the first week of October.

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The 2021 fall exhibition season should be significant for the team as the Hawkeyes have 11 freshmen and eight sophomores on the roster for 2021-22. There was no fall competition in 2020-21, which gave Hawkeye softball players a tough time preparing for spring, Gillispie said.

But the Hawkeyes finished fourth in the Big Ten in 2020-21 — a significant improvement from the 2019-20 season when Iowa finished 12th of 14 teams.

Yet, it wasn’t good enough to make the 2021 NCAA Softball Tournament as the selection committee only took two Big Ten teams for at-large bids.

Iowa hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2009.

“They’re hungry now,” Gillispie said. “They want to win a championship. They understand that not getting in the regionals this last year, it really hurt them.”

She added the Hawkeyes realized they can’t put the selection in anyone else’s hands next season, so getting the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament by winning the Big Ten Tournament has been the focus all summer.

The Hawkeyes will also have a key transfer coming for the 2021-22 season. Breanna Vasquez, a Norwalk, California, native, pitched her first three seasons of collegiate softball at Central Florida. Vasquez made the decision to transfer to Iowa in June.

At Central Florida in 2020-21, Vazquez posted a 4.24 ERA in 36.1 innings, including a complete game shutout against No. 5 Florida.

Vasquez should help bolster a pitching staff that lost all three starters from 2020-21 to graduation.

“She’ll be the upperclassman that we need for these freshmen coming in,” Gillispie said. “Just showing them the ropes, and we talked to her about that. Her coming in isn’t just coming in as a newcomer to the program, but she’s going to be stepping into a leadership role as well.”