By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Brylee Klosterman isn’t old enough to remember when the Iowa softball team was a Big Ten power.
“I was just probably not even born yet when they went to the world series last,” Klosterman said. “But I do remember hearing stories and everything.”
Klosterman was born on Dec. 7, 2001, and just about six months after Iowa made its last appearance in the College Softball World Series in 2001 under former head coach Gayle Blevins.
The program has since fallen on hard times in the post-Blevins era, but hope is now rekindled as Renee Gillispie enters her sixth season as head coach, and with a roster that includes Klosterman as one of the senior leaders on the team.
Iowa is coming off a 2023 season in which it finished 35-27 overall and won the NISC Postseason Tournament, which was held in Fort Collins, Colorado. Iowa finished 5-0 in capturing the 2023 NISC title.
The 35 wins is the most for Iowa since the 2009 season.
The next step in the rebuilding process is to make the NCAA Tournament and compete for a Big Ten title.
“It’s my senior year and I think my other seniors can relate to this; we just want to get there and make a statement and make Iowa known on the map,” Klosterman said Wednesday at Iowa’s annual media day event. “It would be my dream and I’m sure everybody else’s dream.”
Iowa has 18 letterwinners returning and nine newcomers on the current roster.
Klosterman, who attended both Iowa City West and Liberty High School, is among three seniors that will be counted on for leadership and for productivity.
“As a senior leader, I would say Brylee Klosterman, she’s either going to be centerfield or left field,” Gillispie said. “She gotten stronger every year. I just love watching how she’s progressed over the last four years.
“And she’s become one of our key leaders this year.”
Klosterman appeared in 41 games last season, starting in 37. She batted .264 with 29 hits, including six doubles, one triple and four home runs.
She also had the third highest slugging percentage on the team (.445).
Klosterman believes that Iowa’s success at the end of last season will help to propel the current team.
“I think it’s just carrying over into this year and we’re really excited and ready to play other teams other than ourselves,” Klosterman said.
Iowa will start its 2024 season on Friday against North Carolina State and Western Kentucky in the NFCA Leadoff Classic in Clearwater, Florida. Iowa will then face NCCU and Notre Dame on Saturday and Utah on Sunday.
Iowa’s roster will have a mix of youth and experience with 16 underclassmen and 11 upperclassmen.
Freshman Jena Young, who is from Winterset, was highly decorated in high school as she was named the State Gatorade Player of the Year as a junior and senior.
She hit .624 last season with 22 home runs, 55 RBIs and 70 runs scored.
She was also a three-time all-state team selection and a two-time state champion.
“She’s actually got the starting nod at shortstop,” Gillispie said of Young. “She’s probably going to be one or two in the (batting) lineup. She’s a huge threat at the plate. She’s not a big kid, but watch out, because she’s got home run power.”
Sophomore Jalen Adams is expected to lead the pitching staff after a freshman season in which she appeared in 34 games making 23 starts. The Fort Dodge native finished the season with a 2.02 earned-run average, which ranked fourth in the Big Ten.
She picked up 11 wins while holding hitters to a .230 batting average, and she earned Big Ten all-freshman team honors.
“I’m excited to see where we end up at the end of year,” Adams said. “We have a lot of good, young, athletes, myself included, obviously, being an underclassmen.”
Gillispie faced a daunting task when she replaced Marla Looper as head coach prior to the 2019 season.
And while there have been some rough spots along the way, Gillispie seems confident that this team is ready to take that next important step by competing for a Big Ten title and making the NCAA Tournament.
Iowa hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2009, and its last Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles came in 2003.
“We’ve talked a lot in the last three years, we’ve been on the border of getting into the NCAA (Tournament) and I think getting to Colorado and getting that opportunity with the NISC was a chance for them to se what it feels like to be able to go through a tournament format,” Gillispie said. “And so this year, they’re really hungry to win a championship.”