Iowa softball emphasizing accountability, fearless play

The Hawkeyes has battled inexperience throughout the 2021-22 season.


Grace Smith

Iowa head coach Renee Gillispie observes action during a softball game between Iowa and Wisconsin at Bob Pearl Field in Iowa City on Friday, March 25, 2022. The Badgers defeated the Hawkeyes, 10-5.

Ben Palya, Sports Reporter

When Iowa softball dropped three of the four games it played from March 13-15, Renee Gillispie knew she needed to take action. So, the head coach of the Hawkeyes decided each member of her team should have an accountability partner. 

Gillispie’s accountability partnership program is designed to help the Hawkeyes implement and sustain winning habits both on and off the field.

“Having someone hold you accountable to make sure you are cheering and staying positive was a key role to the second half of the trip,” sophomore Denali Loecker said of a stretch that saw the Hawkeyes play 10 games in seven days. “Knowing that you are playing for something more than yourself is really important.”

After Gillispie put her accountability partnership practices in place, the Hawkeyes won four games in a row. Iowa went 5-5 during its 10-game, seven-day run.

The Hawkeyes are now 16-13 overall this season with a 14-8 record on neutral turf. Iowa has lost to Wisconsin, then-No. 19 Kentucky, DePaul, Oregon State, Notre Dame, Butler, Southeast Missouri, Wichita State, Missouri State, Indiana, and No. 1 Oklahoma. The Hawkeyes’ biggest wins of the year have come against the likes of the then-No. 24 Liberty Flames, the Cornell Big Red, and the San Diego Toreros.

Iowa has yet to pick up a win against a Big Ten Conference opponent. The Hawkeyes played their league-opener at Bob Pearl Field in Iowa City March 25-27. Iowa went 0-3 against Wisconsin.

Lately, Gillispie and her coaching staff have emphasized that the Hawkeyes need to play fearlessly.

Iowa has just six upperclassmen on its 22-athlete roster: pitcher Breanna Vasquez, outfielders Kate Claypool, Riley Sheehy, and Nia Carter, and infielders Kalena Burns and Sophia Maras. At times, the Hawkeyes’ inexperience, and in turn, inaction, have hurt them. Iowa committed 38 errors before its Big Ten slate even began.

“It was huge for us to come together as a team and realize that we were playing with a lot of question marks and fears,” Gillespie told The Daily Iowan.

This season, the Hawkeyes have had a few players-only meetings on top of the conversations Gillispie has initiated. Rather than opposing the meetings, Gillispie embraces them.

“It is the key to all successful teams to have leadership and accountability in themselves,” Gillispie said. “For them to start having team meetings, as a coach, I get a smile on my face because I know we have strong leaders.”

Iowa will play a three-game series against Maryland in College Park April 1-3. The three contests will be held at Maryland Softball Stadium.

Next weekend’s Iowa-Maryland games will start at 5 p.m., 1 p.m., and 11 a.m. respectively. All three contests will stream live on BTN+.

Just 23 games stand between the Hawkeyes and the 2022 Big Ten Tournament, which will be held at Secchia Stadium on the Michigan State campus in East Lansing May 12-14.

The 2020 and 2021 Big Ten Tournaments were not played because of COVID-19. Last year’s conference champion was determined via regular season standings.