Iowa softball to open season at Northern Lights, Southern Nights Invitational

The young Hawkeye softball team will face No. 24 Liberty and No. 19 Kentucky, as well as Pittsburgh and Eastern Kentucky, in the opening weekend.


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.

Ben Palya, Sports Reporter

Iowa softball head coach Renee Gillispie says confidence will be key during the Hawkeyes’ opening weekend in Florida.

The Hawkeyes have just six upperclassmen on their roster for the 2022 season after graduating a large senior class in 2021. Plenty of Hawkeyes will be getting their first taste of collegiate action or will be stepping into larger roles.

“We want to see that we are getting relaxed on the field, in the box, and that our pitchers are able to relax and know they are capable of doing it,” Iowa head coach Renee Gillispie said. “They have to develop that themselves, so being able to get some games under their belt will help that.

“The kids are working hard together as a team,” Gillispie added. “We really don’t have that one big leader, but we’re seeing a lot out of the underclassmen.”

Sophomores Denali Loecker and Brylee Klostermann were a pivotal part of Iowa’s lineup in 2021, starting 39 and 43 games, respectively. Gillispie said Loecker and Klostermann have provided leadership in just their second seasons as Hawkeyes.

Iowa will be especially young in its pitching staff. While the Hawkeyes return 86 percent of their hitting from 2021, they lost all three starters in Lauren Shaw, Allison Doocy, and Sarah Lehman.

The Hawkeyes will now be relying on senior pitcher Breanna Vasquez, who transferred to Iowa from the University of Central Florida, to anchor its pitching lineup. Loecker and freshman Devyn Greer will make up the rest of the starting lineup for the Hawkeyes.

Loecker only made one appearance as a pitcher in her freshman season. Greer posted a 1.42 ERA in her prep career. The Hawkeyes’ young pitching room will get a large test during its opening weekend in Florida.

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Three of Iowa’s four opponents this weekend made the NCAA Tournament last season. The Hawkeyes will take on two ranked opponents in No. 24 Liberty and No. 19 Kentucky.

Ahead of the Hawkeyes’ opening weekend, Iowa is focusing on translating their communication skills to the field.

“We have really good bonding and communication throughout the whole team,” Loecker said. “So, putting that together on the field and competing at a high level will be fun, and to see where we are will be cool.”

The Hawkeyes will travel to Florida, California, Tennessee, Kansas, and Missouri in the first six weeks of the season.

With such limited time in between trips, the Hawkeyes have a time crunch to focus on adjusting to the minor details of each team they face. Instead, Iowa is focusing on using much of its practice time to become better individually.

“It’s more about using your skills rather than watching the other team,” Loecker said. “You just have to trust yourself and go out there and compete.”

Iowa kicks off the weekend at the Northern Lights, Southern Nights Invitational against Eastern Kentucky on Friday. It will then play Liberty and Kentucky on Saturday and finish off against Pittsburgh on Sunday.