Sweet 16 Bound

Nov. 9, 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 — The University of Iowa field hockey team has earned its conference-leading 21st NCAA Tournament bid in program history. The Hawkeyes (15-4) will travel to College Park, Md., to face No. 4 Maryland (15-4) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday at 1 p.m. (CT). Iowa has appeared in the NCAA Tournament in five of the last eight years.

The Hawkeyes, ranked 12th nationally, watched the NCAA selection show anxiously Tuesday night inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The wait was worth it, as the room erupted when Iowa’s name was announced.

“It was very exciting,” said Jessica Barnett. “Hearing ‘Iowa’ come up on the screen was amazing. My heart dropped, it was so great.”

“This bid is something my class has been looking forward to for three years now,” said junior goalkeeper Kathleen McGraw. “We have done so much hard work. When they said our name it was an unreal feeling.”

“We are so excited,” said Becca Spengler, the lone senior on this NCAA Tournament team, who was a freshman in 2008 in Iowa’s last appearance. “We have worked so hard for this.”

After a disappointing 2010 campaign, the Hawkeyes are thrilled that their hard work over the course of the last year has paid off.

“From here, we have to take it one day at a time, one game at a time, one play at a time. It is a great opportunity, and we need to make the most of it.”

“We have worked so hard for the last 365 days, pushing ourselves to the limits, doing everything we can to turn our season around from last year,” said Barnett. “It shows that this has all not gone to waste.”

“It is crazy, from where we ended last year to where we are now,” said Spengler. “We have worked so hard on the field, in meetings, watching film and in the weight room. As a team, we are collectively going toward one goal.”

“The adversity that we went through — the challenges and highs and lows of last year — we tried to use that as fuel, and not to ever feel sorry for ourselves,” said head coach Tracey Griesbaum. “I think it really brought out the character of our players and our coaching staff.

“I couldn’t be happier for this team. I am really proud of the way they worked to get to this point. In a 16-team tournament, it is challenging to get an at-large bid.”

Iowa has enjoyed great success in the NCAA Tournament. The Hawkeyes have now appeared in the NCAA Tournament 21 times, reaching 11 Final Fours (both are the most of any Big Ten program) and winning the 1986 National Championship. The Hawkeyes are 26-21 all-time in the tournament, owning the most wins of any league team in NCAA Tournament play.

In their last tournament appearance in 2008, Iowa reached the NCAA Final Four after defeating Louisville and Michigan State in the first and second rounds. The Hawkeyes lost to Maryland in the NCAA semifinals in double overtime. Louisville will host the NCAA Final Four this year. The last time Louisville hosted the Final Four was 2008.

“From here, we have to take it one day at a time, one game at a time, one play at a time,” said Barnett. “It is a great opportunity, and we need to make the most of it.”

No. 3 Syracuse (18-3) and Richmond (16-6) will also play in College Park on Saturday. The winner of both contests will play Sunday at 1 p.m. (CT) to advance to the Final Four.

The Hawkeyes have won seven of their last eight games entering Saturday’s contest.

“We are going, we are not going to stop,” said McGraw. “We are a lower seed, but that does not mean anything to us. This is a new season, we want it all.”