A look into the Cyclone Invitational: How softball is played in the middle of winter

Senior designated hitter Aly Cappaert came up to bat in the first inning with a runner in scoring position and knocked her in for her only RBI. Cappaert went 1 for 4 and scored a run in the 7-0 win against IUPUI on Feb. 12. 

Curran Mclaughlin

It’s the middle of February, and there’s snow on the ground from a recent blizzard.

But, seemingly out of place in this picture, there’s softball being played on a football field. 

The Bergstrom Football Complex played host to the 2016 Cyclone Invitational during the weekend, and the ISU softball team finished 5-1 in its first six games of the season.

The annual tournament, which has run for six straight years, wasn’t originally a yearly event. Iowa State hosted the first tournament in 2011 to cut down on expensive traveling costs, and Northern Iowa was slated to host the tournament in 2012.

Patrick Tarbox, an assistant director for Iowa State’s Athletic Communications Department, recalled when Iowa State got the emergency call.

“What happened was they were rolling the field out and the machine that they need to flatten [the field] breaks down and they can’t get the field flat,” Tarbox said. “Forty-eight hours later, we were hosting a tournament we weren’t supposed to be hosting.”  

From that year on, the tournament stuck as an annual event.

Iowa State doesn’t have any trouble hosting tournaments. The university is more than capable of putting it together. The only component Iowa State doesn’t have readily available is the standard 4-foot fence for the outfield. For the weekend-long tournament, Iowa State rents the fence from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn.

Tim Van Loo, head of the grounds crew, is tasked each year with retrieving the fencing from Macalester College and overseeing the setup of the field for the tournament.

Van Loo was forced to drive up to St. Paul with his grounds team Feb. 8 in a blizzard that affected most of northern Iowa and Minnesota. Van Loo and his crew were stranded in Clear Lake, Iowa, for the night.

“You got a 20-foot trailer fully loaded and going [U.S.] 69 all the way back at night probably wasn’t a wise idea, so we just stopped and finished our journey Tuesday morning,” Van Loo said. 

Van Loo also makes certain that the field is safe and functional for the athletes each year. One problem he experienced in earlier years of the Cyclone Invitational was getting the bases to stay in place.

“What we ended up doing was we [equipped] a couple of the bases [with] a cleat cleaner, spikes that you would clean your football cleats with we turned those upside down,” Van Loo said.

For the ISU softball team, coming into the season playing the home opener was a good way to transition back into competition before going on a five-week road schedule.

“Just to be able to play on the surface that we’ve been practicing on for the last six weeks is a good advantage,” said coach Stacy Gemeinhardt-Cesler. “We don’t have to go and play on the dirt right away when we aren’t able to.”

Despite the snow, softball fans still came out to watch the Cyclones play in the rather unusual setting.

“Having softball in February gets a lot of fans here. They’re sick of the cold,” said senior Aly Cappaert, who had five hits, four runs and eight RBIs in the tournament. “Softball is a warm weather sport. [It] gets them in the mood to get ready for season.”