Iowa softball relying on youth to rebuild pitching staff

After three pitchers graduated, the Hawkeyes are reloading their pitching staff with underclassmen.


Hannah Kinson

Iowa utility player Denali Loecker prepares for a catch during a softball game between Iowa and Nebraska at Pearl Field on Friday, May 7, 2021. The Hawkeyes defeated the Huskers, 1-0.

Dawson Moore, Sports Reporter

Iowa softball compiled a 26-18 record in the 2021 season with the help of their three senior pitchers: Allison Doocy, Lauren Shaw, and Sarah Lehman.

The Hawkeyes relied on their three seniors to pitch a combined four games each weekend, and all three starters compiled ERAs of under three in 2021.

Now, the trio has graduated, and Iowa must rely on their young pitchers to rebuild a diminished staff.

“I think we’re pretty solid,” head coach Renee Gillispie said about her pitching staff on Feb. 4. “A lot of questions were about losing our senior pitchers from last year, and they have great opportunities and they get the chance to go on to some incredible masters programs.”

Doocy played as a graduate student in 2021 and completed a master’s degree in the University of Iowa’s higher education and student affairs program last spring.

Lehman transferred to DePaul with two years of eligibility remaining to play softball and obtain a master’s degree at its business school.

Shaw, also with two years of eligibility remaining, decided to transfer to UCLA to join the Bruins’ softball team and work toward a master’s degree in education.

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The Hawkeyes have one senior in their starting rotation for the upcoming 2022 season, as Breanna Vasquez transferred to Iowa from University of Central Florida. In her sophomore season at UCF, Vasquez posted a team-low 1.79 ERA.

“We’re strong,” Gillispie said. “Vasquez has come in and transferred from UCF, and she’s going to step in right away as our No. 1.”

Sophomore Denali Loecker will also enter Iowa’s rotation this season. Loecker was a second-team All-Big Ten selection in 2021 as a position player, mainly at first base. She posted a team-high .322 batting average with an on-base percentage of .399 while starting 39 games last season.

Loecker got minimal action as a pitcher last season, appearing in just one game.

“Denali didn’t get a chance to pitch last year,” Gillispie said. “She’ll be a sophomore this year and is really holding down the number two spot. She sees a lot of great pitches on her drop ball or change up, she moves the ball really well.”

Gillispie said the third Hawkeye slated to move into the starting rotation is freshman right-handed pitcher Devyn Greer, who hails from Huntington Beach, California. She posted a 1.42 career ERA in high school.

From a bullpen standpoint, Iowa has three freshman reserve pitchers on its staff.

Right-hander Emma Henderson is from Battle Ground, Indiana, and posted a career ERA of 2.30 in high school. Emma’s twin sister, Anna, is a catcher on the Hawkeye softball team.

Freshman Haley Downe from Norfolk, Iowa, was a two-time all-conference selection out of high school.

The last bullpen arm is Katherine Serna from Santa Fe Springs, California. The right-handed pitcher posted an ERA of .079 in her senior year and was named all-league in her conference.

Iowa will officially kick off the 2022 season on Feb. 11, taking on Eastern Kentucky at the Northern Lights and Southern Nights Invitational in Leesburg, Florida.