Programmed to play: Katie Johnson, Rachel Hartman find even balance in first year


Brian Achenbach/Iowa State Daily

Freshman catcher Rachel Hartman watches the signals coming from her coaching staff during Iowa State’s 4-2 win over the Indiana State Sycamores on Feb. 9 at the Bergstrom Football Complex.

Ben Paulus

Stepping to the plate in her first collegiate at-bat, catcher Rachel Hartman gave the home crowd a glimpse of what’s to come for Iowa State. The freshman took a 3-1 fastball and knocked it clear over the centerfield wall for her first career home run.

Hartman won’t let on very easily that’s she’s a freshman by the way she plays. That’s the kind of effect both she and fellow freshman, pitcher Katie Johnson, have been able to have on the Cyclones.

Iowa State has given its fans a number of reasons to be excited about the team this year and its start to the season. Thus far, no impact has been felt quite like the one made by freshmen duo of Hartman and Johnson.

The two made it apparent from the beginning of the season that they could help their team win immediately. Which is welcomed news for the Cyclones, who finished tied for last in the Big 12 in 2013.

Johnson, as a young hurler, found success early and often. Anchoring Iowa State’s pitching staff, Johnson and the Cyclones started the season off with a six-game winning streak.

“They’ve been able to transition to college ball really well,” said ISU coach Stacy Gemeinhardt-Cesler. “For [Hartman], I think it was really important for her to get into game action, she’s just programmed to play games.”

Hartman has started 15 of 16 games behind the plate for the Cyclones this season. Not an easy task for a catcher, considering the number of games Iowa State could play on a given weekend.

What’s perhaps just as eye-catching is Hartman’s ability to produce offensively. Hartman ranks among the leaders in virtually every statistic for Iowa State’s potent offense.

Hartman’s .367 batting average through the first 16 games is good for fifth in Iowa State’s line-up. Hartman is the youngest of four Cyclones with multiple home runs and double-digit RBIs.

Players and coaches are quick to point out that the freshman carries a certain demeanor of determination around with her.

“[Hartman] is a straight competitor, she hates to lose,” said ISU assistant coach Brittany Weil-Miller. “She’s driven by any failure that she has, and it makes her that much stronger in the end.”

In addition to Hartman, Johnson has been another key contributor to the Cyclones as a freshman. Recording a decision in every game for Iowa State, the young pitcher sits atop the Big 12 leaders in both innings pitched at 99.1 and wins with 13.

The early contributions from Johnson are virtually irreplaceable. Pitching day-in and day-out, Johnson has managed to maintain an impressive 1.76 earned run average.

“[Johnson] works very hard and has a great idea of how fine she wants to be with her pitches,” Gemeinhardt-Cesler said. “When you have someone that throws well and often it’s a huge difference.”

The confidence that the coaches and other teammates have in Hartman and Johnson is crucial to the team’s success. The two freshmen have been able to develop a chemistry that allows both to build upon each other’s performances.

Johnson and Hartman have been able to thrive in their respective roles with their new team. Both feed off of their shared competitive drive to succeed and win games.

“I think we really balance each other out a lot, we definitely have different personalities,” Johnson said. “She knows me well enough to help me when I’m struggling, and we work with each other to fight through anything.”

The difference in personality between the two is what makes the tandem so unique. Both players are able to balance each other out emotionally in their pursuit of a common goal, winning softball games.

“As far as chemistry goes we both understand where each other comes from, and we both work hard toward the same goal,” Hartman said. “It helps a lot in terms of what we are trying to achieve on the field.”

The freshmen have quickly transitioned into leaders on the field, helping Iowa State get off to their best start in recent history. With more than three and a half years left with the Johnson to Hartman connection, the Cyclone faithful can expect a high level of play during the foreseeable future.