Iowa softball opens season with pitching improvements, young contributors

The Hawkeyes, who finished 3-20 in Big Ten play last year, are expected to start a handful of the 10 freshmen they brought in this offseason.


Jerod Ringwald

Iowa outfielder Nia Carter poses for a portrait during Iowa Softball Media Day at the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Complex in Iowa City on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023. The Hawkeyes begin the regular season on Friday, Feb. 10, at the Flordia Atlantic University Paradise Classic.

Grant Hall, Sports Reporter

After a 3-20 record in last season’s Big Ten slate, the Iowa softball program plans to bounce back in 2023.

Showcasing a revamped pitching stable and ten incoming freshmen, head coach Renee Gillispie is confident the Hawkeyes will improve during her fifth season at the helm of the Hawkeye softball team.

“Last season, we struggled because we had lost three senior pitchers,” Gillispie said at a media availability session on Jan. 26. “We’ve seen a lot of improvement there [this offseason]. You’re getting players with some experience, you’re seeing players that are healthy.”


Pitching staff showing upgrades across the board

The Hawkeye pitching staff had just five players, including one upperclassman, a season ago.

Fifth-year senior Breanna Vasquez transferred into the program last year from Central Florida and pitched 38 games during her first campaign as a Hawkeye.

“This year, we definitely have a bigger pitching staff,” Vasquez said. “There’s a total of nine of us now, so it’s like you have a group of girls behind you. If my stuff isn’t working in a game, chances are someone else’s will… I’ve got eight girls right behind me that will be there to back me up. It feels like you don’t have to do it by yourself.”

The Hawkeyes have added three more pitchers to their roster for 2023, including freshmen Jalen Adams and Kelsey Winters and Baylor transfer Maren Judisch.

Vasquez cited assistant coach Mandy Gardner, an addition to Gillispie’s staff this offseason, as having a positive impact on the pitching rotation as a whole.

“There’s been a growth with coach Mandy, she’s our new pitching coach this year, and everyone loves her,” Vasquez said. “She’s come in with all these new techniques and drills that we’ve learned, and I think we’ve gained a lot of confidence [thanks to her].”


Freshmen expected to contribute 

The Hawkeyes added 10 freshmen to the program for the 2023 season, and the Iowa upperclassmen wasted no time to incorporate the freshmen into the system.

Senior outfielder Nia Carter said she has bonded with the incoming class since their arrival in Iowa City.

“I’m really close with all the freshmen,” Carter said. “I try to show them how we do it here, what our culture is all about, and just lead them along the way. They’ve meshed really well, and they’re all very talented players. I’m excited to see what they do this year.”

Gillispie echoed Carter’s endorsement, as she expects many newcomers to step up in the Hawkeyes’ first road trip this weekend.

“You’ll see quite a few freshmen out there,” Gillispie said. “Third base, shortstop, second base, right field, and behind the plate — they’re all freshmen. We could have anywhere from five to six freshmen on the field, because they’re doing a great job of running those spots. Our seniors are pushing them every day, and we’ve got such a young, energetic freshmen class.”


Hawkeyes facing solid competition in Florida

The Hawkeyes will start their season with a road trip to Boca Raton, Florida, from Feb. 10-12 to participate in the FAU Paradise Classic.

Iowa’s most noteworthy challenger in the Sunshine State is Mississippi State. The Bulldogs enter the contest ranked No. 23 in the preseason National Fastpitch Coaches Association poll.

The two programs face off on Saturday, Feb. 11 at 8 a.m. Gillispie said matchups with Mississippi State and host Florida Atlantic will be a test for her young squad.

“Mississippi State will probably be the toughest team we will see in Florida,” Gillispie said. “It’s their [the freshmen] first series of Division I games. We tell them that nothing changes in the game … It’s the same field with the same dimensions, just relax and enjoy being a Division I athlete.”

Freshman utility player Anna Streff said she expects the Hawkeyes to come out energized for their first action against Loyola at 8 a.m. on Friday.

“I’m really excited,” Streff said. “The team’s been working really hard. Our pitchers have been throwing really well lately. We’re going to come out strong and prove everybody wrong.”