Home run heroes Rhodes, Iakopo are just driving in runs, pushing their team to greater heights

Nicholas Pannes

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the April 16 issue of The Daily Texan.

It‘s not difficult to spot junior utility player Mary Iakopo and senior outfielder Shannon Rhodes’ similarities.

The two power hitters attend the same colleges, played on the same teams and are versatile threats on both sides of the ball. But if you somehow can’t see the resemblance, they’ll probably find a way to remind you.

“We’re roommates. We’re best friends,” Iakopo said after she homered against Iowa State on April 11. “We swing the same and (basically) have the same scouting report. We work together both on and off the field.”

Even statistically, the two align closely. This season, Rhodes and Iakopo have become certifiable home run heroes for their team, combining for 24 of the Longhorns’ 58 home runs on the season, only 34 games in.

For reference, the esteemed 2010 Longhorn squad, led by Texas softball icons Taylor Hoagland and Blaire Luna, scored 50 home runs by that time. The 2010 Longhorns finished their season with a single-season record 88 total home runs.

Throughout the season, Rhodes and Iakopo have been battling back and forth for the top spot as the team’s premier home run hitter. On March 3, Iakopo earned 5 RBIs off of two home runs against Houston. Three weeks later, on March 27, Rhodes blasted three home runs in a single game against UTSA.

It’s an ideal form of competition: a friendly rivalry pushing both players to excel at the plate. Their dads even have a little bit of cash riding behind the contest.

“It’s funny. A couple weeks ago our dads, they (said), ‘All right, whoever gets the record first, we’ll put some money together and see who (wins),’” Rhodes said in a March 31 teleconference. “So (it’s) just between us and our dads. Just a little incentive to keep it going.”

But the relationship between the two extends far beyond their statistical impact. In many ways, the dynamic duo of Rhodes and Iakopo reflect upon their team as a whole.

Their decision to follow head coach Mike White from Oregon down to Texas shows the commitment and respect towards White and his coaching staff. Their continued friendship demonstrates the bonds that run deep within this team.

And their respective home run totals of 13 and 11 — already eclipsing their own single-season records — are emblematic of the continued improvement of No. 7 Texas softball, currently holding a 31-3 record.

On a team of players split between a set of budding underclassmen and dedicated upperclassmen, Rhodes and Iakopo also provide a valuable source of leadership and veteran experience.

Rhodes returned for her fifth year through an extra season of eligibility following last season’s cancellation due to COVID-19, and her and Iakopo are making the most of a potential final championship run.

“I feel like I had a little bit of unfinished business,” Rhodes said. “You don’t really realize how much you take something for granted until it’s taken from you … I just wanted to go out on a high note and chase that dream of a national championship one more time.”