Scheduling with a purpose
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It may be winter, but University of Iowa Softball Coach Marla Looper is thinking spring.
"In our sport, you have three seasons—the preseason, the conference season, and postseason," says Looper. "The Big Ten Tournament is added this year, and we want to get to NCAA postseason play."
As a result, the Hawkeyes are scheduling in order to maximize the potential of reaching their goals of winning the Big Ten championship and making the NCAA tournament.
"In season one, we face the defending national champion twice, we face teams that have been in the World Series multiple times, and we face a handful of teams that were in postseason play last year," says Looper. "We are doing our best to schedule as best we can because if we play the best, we beat the best, we become the best. That is our goal."
Iowa will face 13 opponents—11 in nonconference play— that advanced to the NCAA Tournament a season ago, including defending national champion Alabama. The Hawkeyes open the season with six tournaments in five states.
"Our challenge is not to just focus on conference play, but it is our goal to be Big Ten champions, so we do not leave doubt in anyone's mind that Iowa should be in postseason play,” she says. “We want to get to NCAA postseason play."
Iowa finished with a 27-26 overall and 16-8 conference record in 2012. The Hawkeyes finished the season on a roll, winning five straight series en route to a runner-up finish in the Big Ten. It was the first time the team had won five straight series since the 2004 season.
Iowa finished just short of reaching the NCAA Tournament. A strong preseason schedule this season, coupled with better results, will raise the Hawkeyes' postseason stock.
"If we just focus on conference, we are losing that opportunity, like we did last year, to continue on to season three," says Looper. "Our biggest challenge is to approach every game the same way. That consistency is huge."
Big Ten weekends will move to three games in three days.
"I am excited about the three single games," says Looper. "It makes it challenging when scheduling. I was willing to make that sacrifice because our sport has been known to cram in games. Your bodies wear down. If you have a doubleheader, you are at the field all day.
"I am a huge fan of single games. Whoever brings it gets the win. You could, or could not, face the exact same team. The opponent could see three completely different pitchers on the mound in a weekend. How do you approach your opponent differently even though it is the same opponent every day? I like that element of how can you reinvent yourself. That is what we will have to do in the postseason."
An added element returns to the schedule in 2013, as the Big Ten Tournament is back for the first time since 2008. Following the conclusion of the regular season, Iowa will travel to Lincoln, Neb., May 9-12.
"It is fun," says Looper. "Had we not had conference expansion, we wouldn't have needed to (bring it back), because we played everyone. That is primarily why we brought it back."
The Hawkeyes finished two games back of Michigan in league play last year. In 2013, Iowa's goal is to take care of business during all three seasons.
"We are going to by dynamic," says Looper. "We are going to be fun to watch and are going to get after it. We are going to compete and win some ball games.
"We made some waves last year, but there is still a lot to be done."