Scott Dochterman/Land of 10
Iowa softball thrived under Gayle Blevins, who has this marker at the UI Athletics Hall of Fame.

Iowa softball needs new direction after another flameout

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ANSWER: Iowa softball was an elite Big Ten program from 1988 through 2010 under former coach Gayle Blevins.

At the time of her retirement, Blevins’ 1,245 collegiate wins were the second-most in NCAA history. In Blevins’ 23 seasons at Iowa, the Hawkeyes were 945-440-3 and 349-154-1 in Big Ten play. Blevins took Iowa to 16 NCAA Tournaments and four Women’s College World Series berths. Blevins’ teams never had a losing record and only in her first year did the Hawkeyes finish below .500 in Big Ten play.

During Blevins’ tenure, softball was the most successful women’s athletics program at Iowa and perhaps second at the university to men’s wrestling.

Blevins’ replacement, Marla Looper, has yet to produce anything close to an NCAA Tournament appearance. After a Big Ten Tournament loss to Northwestern on Saturday, Looper’s eight-year record stands at 172-247-1 overall and 68-113 in Big Ten action.

It’s even worse over the last five seasons. Iowa is 88-172-1 and 35-79 in league action. Again, this was a gold-standard sport at Iowa for more than two decades.

Under Looper, the state’s best players have flocked to rival programs. Minnesota sophomore catcher Kendyl Lindaman was named the Big Ten’s player of the year the last two seasons. Lindaman broke the school and Big Ten single-season record with 20 home runs last year. She has 19 currently. At Ankeny Centennial just north of Des Moines, Lindaman set the Iowa state record with 71 career home runs.

Minnesota sophomore pitcher Amber Fiser was a first-team All-Big Ten selection. Among league competitors, Fiser ranks first in innings pitched (228.1), second in wins (26), second in ERA (1.59) and second in strikeouts (230). In high school, Fiser was a record-setting pitcher at Benton Community, located about 30 miles from Iowa City.

The Gophers, who have won three straight Big Ten Tournament titles, have five Iowans on their roster. Wisconsin has four. Michigan, the league’s regular-season champion, snagged one of the state’s best pitching prospects who now serves as the Wolverines’ No. 2 hurler. All three programs are more successful than Iowa, which has only six natives on its roster. Only one Iowan was a senior, and she transferred from Indiana State last summer.

After a 16-8 Big Ten record in 2012, Looper received a contract extension lasting through the end of this season. The once-proud program’s downward trajectory and annual recruiting mishaps make a change necessary for it to regain any traction.

With a loyal fan base, tradition, fertile recruiting territory and a new facility on the horizon, the Hawkeyes should return to the Big Ten forefront quickly under the right coach. With the summer softball season in Iowa about to start, a change needs to happen now.

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