Hitting a point of emphasis for Iowa softball in 2022

The Hawkeyes are looking to improve upon the .245 batting average they posted in 2021.


Jerod Ringwald

Iowa head coach Renee Gillispie talks with her players during a softball game between Iowa and Indiana at Pearl Field on Saturday, April 3, 2021. The Hawkeyes defeated the Hoosiers 1-0.

Ben Palya, Sports Reporter

After a 26-18 2021 season, the Iowa softball team is setting loftier goals for 2022.

Hawkeye head coach Renee Gillispie isn’t afraid to talk about her team’s objectives, either.

“We’ve always had a set of expectations with our five-year plan,” Gillispie told The Daily Iowan at Hawkeye Softball Media Day Feb. 4. “This year, our goal is to win a conference championship. We’ve been kind of behind, and COVID doesn’t help with that, but our focus right now is on winning a conference championship.”

Iowa will try to meet Gillispie’s high expectations with a completely reworked pitching staff. None of the hurlers that started for Gillispie in 2021 returned to the University of Iowa for the 2022 season.

Allison Doocy, Lauren Shaw, and Sarah Lehman all graduated or transferred at the end of the Hawkeyes’ 2021 campaign.

Iowa had the third-best ERA and overall record in the 14-team Big Ten Conference last season.

With so much production to replace, the Hawkeyes will turn to sophomore Denali Loecker. Hailing from Ogden, Iowa, Loecker spent much of the 2021 season playing away from the pitcher’s mound.

Loecker’s .322 batting and .399 on-base percentages were Iowa’s team-highs a year ago. Her four home runs were also the most any Hawkeye posted last season.

RELATED: Iowa softball relying on youth to rebuild pitching staff

While her hitting and fielding were pivotal parts of the Hawkeyes’ game plan last year, her pitching abilities may be what Iowa relies upon more than anything in 2022. In 3.1 innings pitched in 2021, Loecker gave up six hits, four runs, and one home run.

With some question marks remaining for its pitching staff, Iowa does still have a reason to be confident. Counting Loecker, the Hawkeyes are returning 86 percent of their hitting and 84 percent of their RBIs in 2022.

Among Iowa’s most notable weapons is junior Nia Carter, who posted a .509 batting average in 2020.

“She is solid at the plate,” Gillispie said of Carter. “We know we will get the hits and RBIs when we need it. We had her in the number two and three spot. It is hard to know where to put her because she is such a great hitter.”

Brylee Klosterman will also gear up for a second season with the Hawkeyes in 2022. She posted .316 batting and .396 on-base percentages last season. Klosterman also tallied 37 hits.

Despite all their firepower, the Hawkeyes finished eighth in the Big Ten in batting average last year at .245.

Iowa wants to register a higher batting average this season, but Loecker isn’t putting any extra pressure on herself.

“I just need to stay confident and relaxed in the box,” said Loecker, who was an All-Big Ten second-teamer in 2021. “I don’t want to put pressure on myself and be the best player I can be.”

The Hawkeyes’ first event of the year is the Northern Lights, Southern Nights Invitational in Leesburg, Florida. Tournament action will begin Feb. 11.

Iowa will play its first home game of the year at Bob Pearl Field on March 25, when the Hawkeyes welcome the Wisconsin Badgers to Iowa City.