It’s easy to talk about having to stay the course in the face of adversity. Coaches say it all the time when the losses start to mount and the frustration builds.
The hard part is actually staying the course and having what it takes to right the ship.
Members of the Iowa softball team would attest to that after what they’ve been through during this up-and-down season.
The Hawkeyes, with records of 25-25 overall and 14-7 in the Big Ten, probably are a long shot to make the NCAA Tournament, but even having a shot at postseason is a testament to how far the team has come this spring.
Iowa also still has a chance to win the Big Ten title, but that won’t be easy, either, with Michigan (36-15, 15-5) leading the second-place Hawkeyes by two games in the loss column.
The consensus among the players and coaches is that it’ll likely take a three-game sweep at Minnesota this weekend to have a realistic chance to make the NCAA Tournament.
“I think there is a good shot we need to sweep,” second-year Iowa coach Marla Looper said. “We need (to win) at least two of three or else we won’t be at .500.
“So our backs are kind of against the wall a little bit. But this group has got the ability to do it.”
Looper thinks her team now is benefiting from having played a brutal nonconference schedule even though it meant losing nine of 10 games against ranked opponents during the early stages of the season.
Iowa has won 10 of its last 14 games and four consecutive series dating back to April 14. The last time Iowa won at least four consecutive Big Ten series was in 2004.
“I do not regret our preseason scheduling in playing some of the best in the country because for us to be the best we have to play them,” said Looper, a former assistant coach at Texas and a former all-America pitcher at Florida State in the 1990s. “Then we beat them and become them.
“The kids have really done a nice job of believing in themselves and putting in the work every day. We’ve played some of the best teams in the country. We’ve competed with them. We deserve to be in this spot, and that’s kind of the mentality they have right now.”
Iowa has been plagued by an inability to win close games throughout the season with 26 of its 50 games decided by two runs or less. The Hawkeyes have a 10-16 record in those games.
“Those one-run games are pretty frustrating,” junior pitcher Chelsea Lyon said. “But we knew that we were right there. We just had to get over the hump. We just had to tweak a couple things and I think we have officially done that now.”
What they didn’t do is panic. Looper has made sure of that.
“I don’t feel like I’ve panicked because there really is no need to panic,” Looper said. “And we talk about it every day. What can we control? What are the little things we do and not concern ourselves about anybody else or anything else? We can’t rely on anyone else.”
Senior infielder Katie Keim attributes Iowa’s success in conference play to patience, persistence and Looper’s positive outlook.
Looper took over an Iowa program that made 16 NCAA Tournament appearances under her predecessor Gayle Blevins. That’s the second most tournament appearances among Big Ten teams.
“She had confidence in us, and she knew that we could do it,” Keim said of Looper. “She knew that we were frustrated because we knew that we could do it. It just wasn’t happening. We just needed to realize that it would take time and a lot of hard work.”
Reach Pat Harty at 339-7368 or firstname.lastname@example.org.