Hawkeyes Ready to Hit the Field

July 28, 2006

The bitter taste of disappointment and frustration has simmered in the mouths of the University of Iowa field hockey team for nine months now and not even a gallon of Listerine could rid the Hawkeyes of the flavor.

The team has had since November 4, 2005 to dwell on the losses that finished last year’s season, including Michigan’s 3-2 victory against the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten Tournament.

“We were in a really good position heading into the last weekend of the season,” UI Coach Tracey Griesbaum said.

“We finished our season with three losses, and all of them regional losses, which killed our ranking. That has just really left a sour taste in my mouth.”

Senior Heather Schnepf, the returning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, said she is still plagued by memories of the season’s end. “It was just so disappointing and we’re so ready to get back on the field and show our stuff.”

Whatever lingering emotions the team holds, however, will be tempered by a strong recruiting class, the addition of Iowa field hockey legend Kristy Gleason as an assistant coach, and the move into state-of-the-art locker rooms at the UI’s new Tennis and Recreation Center near one-year-old Grant Field.

Plus, the first chance for the team to clear their palette comes Aug. 19 in an exhibition against Missouri State and a revenge match against Michigan will be played Sept. 22 in Iowa City.

Griesbaum said the dates couldn’t come soon enough.

“The younger athletes on the team, they didn’t want their season to end,” she said of the reaction after the Big Ten Tournament loss. “They wanted to start again the next day.”

The exuberance of that youth will again be on display this year. While Griesbaum said that last year was a “really young team” with three or four freshmen starting each game, this year’s team could be even younger. Seven of the 11 starters will likely be freshmen or sophomores.

“I’m fine with it as long as everyone’s moving forward,” Griesbaum said. “The freshmen coming in these days are different than five, ten years ago. They have so much playing experience under their belt.”

“They basically got the equivalent of a whole season under their belt playing this summer.”

One of the few upperclassmen starters will be Schnepf, a second-team All-American last year and one of only two seniors, with Kara Zappone, on the roster.

Reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year will anchor the Hawkeye defense

“I think the pressure that’s going to be put on her is fair,” Griesbaum said. “She’s going to put a lot on herself. It’s been a gradual process from her freshman year to now. She has incrementally become a better player — just really been a consistent player.”

Schnepf, who is counted on to anchor the defense, will also face the task of assimilating the new faces onto the team.

“It doesn’t worry me at all because I know our coaches only recruit certain type athletes so I know they’ll just fit right in,” Schnepf said. “They’ve already established themselves in high school and in national teams. They worked really hard at camp.”

The team’s camp in July was the first opportunity for the returning players to mix with the five freshmen – Meghan Beamesderfer, Tricia Dean, Kelly Hondros, Sarah Stark and Jessica Werley – and by all accounts, the new blood made a good impression.

“I think they turned some heads,” Griesbaum said. “They definitely got the attention of their teammates. You don’t want it any other way as a coach; you want the freshman to keep raising the bar.”

The recruits won’t be the only new faces on the Grant Field sidelines. In May, the University announced the hiring of Gleason, an Iowa Hall of Famer, as an assistant coach. Gleason’s list of accolades is longer than the Mississippi River and she brings her expertise in scoring – no field hockey player at Iowa has scored more goals or points in a college career.

Gleason will pair with assistant coach Lisa Cellucci – Iowa’s all-time saves leader, and an assistant for six years – to coach the Hawkeyes.

“It’s awesome cause you don’t want to let them down, with all the traditions they’ve had and passing it down,” Schnepf said.

“They think it’s really cool,” Griesbaum said of her players getting to work with the renowned assistant coaches. “You come to Iowa when you’re 18, like they did, then they went on to do other things and then they’re back. It’s cool to come back to Iowa City when you’re an East Coast girl.”

Still, standing in the way of excitement for the start of a new season is a rough schedule that starts the Hawkeyes in gorgeous Chapel Hill, N.C. to play ACC powerhouses Wake Forest and North Carolina. Both teams beat the Hawkeyes last year to start the season.

“It’s a phenomenal way to start the season because you get top 10 teams,” Griesbaum said. “This is the best hockey being played until the Final Four – it’s a little preseason Final Four. It’s always very interesting.”

Schnepf said even if the Hawkeyes come away with losses, playing against competition makes the challenge worthwhile.

“I think it’s awesome; they have a strong base and great teams and great coaches,” she said. “It pays off in the end, even if we don’t come out with the results in that we want.”

After the trip to Chapel Hill, the schedule doesn’t get much easier. Last year’s schedule, which was close to a 50/50 split between road and home games, will seem comfortable compared to this year’s schedule. The team will play 11 away games compared to only six at home.

“It’s just the way it is, being in the Midwest, it’s sometimes challenging to have that 50/50 split in your schedule all the time,” Griesbaum said. “We are going to areas of the country where our athletes are from, where our recruits are.”

Griesbuam mentioned this year’s September trip to West Chester, Penn. to play Villanova and West Chester. The Hawkeyes have seven players on their roster from Pennsylvania.

“We will have equally as big of a crowd there,” she said. “You’re going to have the aunts and uncles and cousins and high school teams busing there.”

“A few times in my years, we’ve had more fans when we’re away than the home team,” Schnepf said. “On the East Coast, we get a big fan base.”

All of the Hawkeyes except sophomore Lindsey Duffy, from San Diego, Calif., are from East of Iowa City.

Iowa remains their college home, and while the new Grant Field will be home for the second year, new locker room, training room and coaching facilities will great all of the Hawkeyes.

“The team definitely feels like this is their Grant Field; they don’t know much different,” Griesbaum said. “12 of our 17 athletes have never played on the old Grant Field.”

The locker rooms, which are close to completion, are now in proximity to the training room, the coaches’ offices and an indoor space of turf that the team can use in the offseason.

“There’s not much that’s left out,” Griesbaum said. “And it’s about a 300-yard walk to their brand new field. I’m super excited about it.”

She said the combined excitement of the team is one of this year’s Hawkeyes’ biggest strengths, and she is counting on it to propel the team farther than last year’s miss on an NCAA Tournament berth.

“I think our team is very eager,” Griesbaum said. “Our junior and senior class had a taste of a Big Ten championship and NCAA Tournament competition (in 2004). They believe they’re an equally if not better team than that year. You can’t really fake this, but they truly believe they’re really good.”