Aug. 22, 2008
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by Sean Neugent
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The University of Iowa field hockey team returns several key players from a year ago when it was ranked No. 5 in the nation and finished the season with a 17-4 overall record. The Hawkeyes know they have a big target on their backs after winning back-to-back Big Ten Tournaments. But as the Hawkeyes have witnessed, winning the Big Ten Tournament does not entitle you to anything when the national tournament rolls around. In fact, The national stage has not been kind to Iowa, which who has lost in the opening round the past two years.
“Since we have won the past two years, how could we not have a target on our back?,” senior goalkeeper Lissa Munley said. “I think the target is only as big as you make it. We go game-by-game, day-by-day and if we take it one step at a time we’ll be fine for the conference games, the Big Ten Tournament and so on. We can’t look too far ahead, but it’s always in the back of our minds. Each game is win or lose, it is not a given.”
“We return pretty much everyone from last year,” senior forward Caroline Blaum said. “We’ve been to the national tournament a couple of times and it ended the same way with losing in the first round. I think we have a lot of returners and upperclassmen who are going to do whatever it takes to not allow that again. We are one year better, one year more fit and we’re one year stronger on the ball. We know what to expect and we’re excited to get started.”
Redemption weighs heavily on their minds of the Hawkeye field hockey players as they prepare to open the season Aug. 30 by taking on Wake Forest and defending national champion North Carolina (Aug. 31) in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge in Winston-Salem NC. Iowa will head home afterwards, but the schedule doesn’t get any easier as they will play American (Sept. 5) and another ACC team, Duke (Sept. 7).
“Last year we split at that tournament,” head coach Tracey Griesbaum said. “That was a huge momentum boost for us. We had a great game against Wake, did really well and came out against North Carolina and played a horrible first half. We played a great second half and actually we thought we won three of the four halves. That was huge for us. We’re looking to do the same thing — take a half at a time, a game at a time, and at the end of that weekend, ideally we need a split.”
It is a tall order to start the season against the talent-rich ACC. Wake Forest was ranked No. 2 last season and Duke was No. 4. The Hawkeyes won both of their meetings against those teams last year with their defensive weapon Lissa Munley who puzzled the opposing offenses with shutouts. The confident Hawkeyes are looking forward to battling against the top teams this fall and seeing how they rank.
“Flat-out, I’m really excited,” Blaum said. “I think we have a great team and an awesome coaching staff. We lost two seniors last season and one all-around starter, so on paper it doesn’t take a field hockey professional to realize what we have. We are really excited to show what we have. We’re also really excited to learn what we have. Wake Forest is extremely strong every year and we will be excited to see how we match up against that.”
The UI has an abundance of talent to get it done as they have an experienced and older team coming back to the field with eight senior leaders. The Hawkeyes racked up the awards last year with four all-Big Ten selections, four regional all-Americans and three All-Americans coming returning.
“These three scrimmages we have had…we have never had before in a season,” senior back Roz Ellis said. “It’s really good game preparation for next weekend what we’re coming into. We really want to focus on coming out strong and doing one game at a time. It’s my last year so I want to play every game and leave everything on the field each time.”
“This was a great experience for us to have three games where we are actually putting on the black and gold and playing against another team,” Griesbaum said. “You know how it is in any sport — you practice against yourself, you beat each other up, you know each other’s moves, you lose a little bit more of that motivation, so I think our team will be physically and mentally ready to play next weekend. We wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing if we weren’t embracing every single day stepping out on the field and training together. The energy is great.”
Griesbaum knows her tight-knit group has the talent and leadership to take the Hawkeyes all the way to the postseason and win a national championship. Tough scheduling can only make a team stronger and the Hawkeyes will face the best right off the bat, in a test to see if they are the top collegiate team in the nation.
“I do think we’re capable [of winning a national title],” Griesbaum said. “We need to develop and I think that is what we are looking to do with every week. Either we are doing it with longer stretches of time or we’re playing ends of halves better. We’re going to try and keep building every single week. I really think we can be there, but it’s not something I’m talking to myself about every day. It’s more what kind of work we need to put into it, where we need to come along with our team and that will take care of itself.”
“I don’t need any outside motivation,” Munley said. “Being a Hawkeye and being on this field is motivation in itself. Just wearing the Hawk and Iowa on my jersey are more than I could have asked for.”
“We start off with a bang and we’re not afraid to do it,” Blaum added. “I think (the opening weekend) will tell a lot.”
To view 25 photos from Friday’s scrimmage and media day activities, click HERE .