Smoother Sailing for the Hawkeyes

Sept. 7, 2011

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Those little bumps in the road known as the University of Iowa field hockey program are being filled and flattened with every game of the 2011 season.

After 11 seasons of finishing .500 or better, the Hawkeyes felt a thump in 2009 (9-10 overall) and a thud in 2010 (3-14). But as they say, those seasons are now in the rearview mirror. After Sunday’s 3-0 dismantling of Massachusetts, Iowa is cruising along with a 3-1 record. The Hawkeyes didn’t win their third game a year ago until the ninth outing on Sept. 26.

“Obviously something is a little different than last year,” UI head coach Tracey Griesbaum said. “We’re a new team, but there are a lot of returners, so the work they have done in the past nine months is starting to pay off.”

This is how much growth the program has seen since a 2-0 loss to Michigan on Nov. 4, 2010 — the eighth consecutive loss to end the Hawkeyes’ season. In 2010, Iowa averaged 8.8 shots in 17 games; in 2011 the Hawkeyes are averaging 15 shots a game. Iowa finished the 2010 season by scoring five goals — total — in the first half; so far this fall, the Hawkeyes have outscored opponents 7-2 during the first 35 minutes of games. A year ago, Iowa scored 19 goals (an average of 1.1 per game); in 2011, the Hawkeyes have already scored 13 times (3.3 average).

“We weren’t willing to hide and pretend that, `Oh, we’re Iowa, so we’re going to be good just because,'” Griesbaum said. “We needed to strip down and be really raw with them. November and December were pretty hard months for us. We did some team-building exercises and had hard conversations to figure out where we are and how we need to get better.”

The Iowa field hockey program is one of the nation’s elite, with 20 NCAA appearances, 12 Big Ten Conference championships and 11 Final Four appearances. It appears the Hawkeyes are turning back into the fast lane. They downed Kent State, 7-3, on Friday and came back with a 3-0 win against UMass on Sunday. It is the first time Iowa swept a weekend series since Oct. 30-31, 2009, with wins against James Madison (3-2) and American (2-1). It is the first weekend sweep at Grant Field since Oct. 3-5, 2008, with wins against Northwestern (2-0) and Missouri State (8-0).

The seven goals scored against the Golden Flashes is the most the Hawkeyes have scored in 32 games.

“We’ve been on the attack mindset, trying to put teams under pressure,” Griesbaum said. “In this game you need a tactical system, you need athletes, you need speed and you need all kinds of teamwork. It’s not just one facet, but a lot of it is their mentality and their confidence. They are very determined.”

UI sophomore Kim Scraper is off to a fast start offensively, scoring six goals on 12 shots and the game-winner against No. 11 Wake Forest in the season-opener Aug. 27. Sophomore Niki Schultheis has two goals. Five other Hawkeyes have scored goals and seven have contributed assists.

On Sunday, goalkeeper Merty McGraw registered her sixth career shutout.

“I’m happy for Merty and the whole team,” Griesbaum said. “They worked hard and hunkered down on defense and they were pretty stingy.”

Iowa travels to Providence, R.I., this weekend to face the host Friars (0-3) on Friday and Brown (1-1) on Saturday. The Hawkeyes are 5-0 all-time against Providence, and they blanked Brown, 5-0, last season.