Field hockey fueled for Final Four return

Aug. 19, 2009

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by Sean Neugent

IOWA CITY, Iowa — The thought of reaching another NCAA Final Four was already brewing for the University of Iowa field hockey program Wednesday during media day inside the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Center.

The Hawkeyes were 18-5 last season, but graduated eight seniors, leaving them with a current roster 16 with eight freshmen. Two of those lost to graduation — Caroline Blaum and Lauren Pfeiffer — landed on the UI coaching staff.

UI head coach Tracey Griesbaum refuses to call it a rebuilding year — and for good reason. The eight non-rookie student-athletes on the Hawkeye team have experience brimming from a Final Four appearance in 2008. Iowa also took down eight top-25 teams during the season and since 2006 has averaged nearly 16 wins per season.

“I think the experience of going there and knowing what it takes is what will push our intensity each day at practice and the games,” senior midfielder Tricia Dean said. “I think that we have enough returners that know what it takes to carry the rest of the team and I think we will have just as much success.”

“We got that far so we need to build on that,” junior forward Sarah Pergine said. “We were able to experience it, so we know what we want to get. I want to get to that point because I know how great it was.”

The Hawkeyes know they have a lot of work ahead of them, especially starting against Atlantic Coach Conference heavyweights Wake Forest and North Carolina in the first two games of the season.

The Big Ten as a whole will also be gunning for Iowa after the Hawkeyes captured three consecutive conference tournament titles. Nothing will come easy and the Hawkeyes would not have it any differently — they simply love the pressure.

“It puts a really large target on us,” Pergine said. “Especially because so many teams know that we lost eight seniors, they are going to think they have our number this year, but I think our freshmen will really contribute.”

Griesbaum continuously stresses the importance of taking it one-game-at-a-time and not looking ahead, which is a challenge in itself. This will mark her 10th year with the program and she knows that, without looking ahead, this could be a very special year for the three seniors — Dean, Jess Werley, and Meghan Beamesderfer. That trio has an opportunity to accomplish a rare feat — to go undefeated in the Big Ten Championship and go to the NCAA Tournament every year of their collegiate career.

“We have to take it one day at a time. We did that last year and I think I said that about 100 times,” said Griesbaum, who has a career record of 115-63 with the Hawkeyes. “We are doing the same this year and you can’t tell the juniors to have different goals. They have been in the NCAA Tournament every year, they have won three Big Ten tournament championships and your senior year you’re not supposed to hold back.”

It is tough to replace eight seniors, but Griesbaum is excited and looking forward to seeing what her freshman can do on the field.

“They (freshmen) came to our Iowa camp this summer,” Griesbaum said. “They are taking steps every day during preseason camp and they have a lot of skills, a lot of speed, and a lot of heart. There is a lot of strength in that freshman class and they are going to take some lumps, but we have to be able to progress throughout the season. It is looking like four or five freshmen will be on the field to start.”

The Hawkeyes know there is much in store for the 2009 season, but if they take it one game at a time, they could put themselves right back where they were a season ago with a spot in the Final Four.

“We have a huge target on our back,” Dean said. “We are definitely ready for it. Getting there (Final Four) and knowing that we can do it is definitely something we can take as a positive, but I still think we want something more and that will fuel us.”