The Comeback Kid

Nov. 1, 2005

At the end of her first year, junior midfielder Heather Schnepf was on her way to a successful career. She led her team with five defensive saves and was named an alternate on the United States Under-21 team.

Then she tore her ACL during spring practice and was told that she could be out for her entire sophomore season. Her team struggled by starting the season 1-4.

“It was really hard, especially since we weren’t doing so well,” said Schnepf. “I thought I could be in there and help. Anytime you are on the sidelines is hard.”

“It was very hard. She was just starting to understand our philosophy and play,” said Head Coach Tracey Griesbaum. “It was detrimental. We missed her at the beginning of last year.”

But just five months after her surgery, Schnepf stepped back onto the field, picking up right where she left off. She was a second team all-Big Ten and NFHCA West Regional All-American, as well as being named to the all-Big Ten Tournament team.

However she wasn’t done yet. She was named to the U.S. Under-21 Pan-Am Team, where she competed in Pan-American Junior Championships in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in March, and in the Junior World Cup in Santiago, Chile, in September.

The University of Iowa is the host school for the 2005 Big Ten Conference Field Hockey Tournament. Competition begins on Friday and continues through Sunday at Grant Field on the UI campus.

“We are very honored and excited she represented her country and state at the World Cup. I want our student-athletes to experience world hockey at the highest level they can attain. She brought more knowledge of the game back with her. She’s playing with confidence,” said Griesbaum.

For Schnepf, the opportunity meant more than just a chance to showcase her skills.

“It gave me a lot of confidence. I feel like I can play at an elite level. It improved my skills,” she said.

It should come as no surprise that Schnepf has come has far as she has. In high school, she was a first team all-American as a senior and a two-time first team all-south Jersey, all-Burlington County, all-Olympic Conference and all Group 4 selection. She scored 37 career goals, which helped her capture the Burlington County Player of the Year award as a senior.

It was Schnepf’s all-around sportsmanship that attracted Griesbaum.

“She was very actively involved in U.S. programs as a prep,” she said. “I loved her presence on field. She was very competitive yet very poised. She was a great passer,”

For Schnepf, the decision to come to Iowa was easy.

“Basically, it was because of the coaching staff. There’s a great tradition here. The team is more like a family,” she said.

She’s come a long way since her first days here. In her first two years, she was backed up by two-time first team all-American goalie Barb Weinberg. Now, she is leading the defense along with freshman goalie Lissa Munley. Despite the change, Schnepf has continued to succeed.

“It was a big loss for us [losing Weinberg]. I try not to think that Lissa is any less than Barb was. I have to be a leader on and off the field,” she said.

Griesbaum echoed the importance of Schnepf being a leader.

“We wanted her to take control of the game knowing we were losing Barb. We look to Heather to gain control of the defense and keep it organized,” she said.

Through her ACL setback, Schnepf has matured into an all-around threat for other teams.

“She adds a very skilled player. She anchors our defense. She plays sweeper position, which is the last line of defense. She gives composure, skills and defense. We look to her to gain control of our defense and start the offense,” said Griesbaum.

Schnepf looks to build off her incredible post-season and help the Hawkeyes return to this year’s NCAA tournament.

The first hurdle to that event for Iowa happens this weekend when the Hawkeyes host the 2005 Big Ten Conference Tournament. Iowa is the No. 5 seed. They open play Friday at 12:30 p.m. against Michigan, the tournament’s No. 4 seed. A victory will put Iowa back on the turf at Grant Field at 11 a.m., Saturday, against No. 1 seed Penn State.