Oct. 10, 2014
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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 — Natalie Cafone is rewriting the University of Iowa field hockey team’s record books, and she is just getting started.
“She is already well on her way to being one of the Hawkeye greats,” said UI head coach Lisa Cellucci.
It started as a freshman when Cafone tallied eight goals, helping lead Iowa to the NCAA Tournament.
“She was a role player for us during the first half of her freshman year,” said Cellucci. “Once she learned our tactics and system, she was able to have a much greater impact.”
Cafone, an NFHCA National All-American in high school, has continued to improve since she arrived in Iowa City.
“I had a lot of work to do with my stick,” said the Fairfield, New Jersey, native. “If I could run without the ball and stick, it did not mean much, so I knew I had to improve my skills, and if I worked with the coaching staff I could improve to the level they expected. Putting in hard work alongside great athletes helped me improve.”
Looking back on the 2013 season, saying Cafone had a bigger impact as a sophomore would be an understatement.
Cafone tallied 22 goals and eight assists for a total of 52 points. She led the Big Ten in points and goals and was the NCAA statistical champion for points per game, leading the nation with a 2.48 average. She became the first Hawkeye to lead the nation in points per game since Kristy Gleason in 1992 (3.95). Cafone ranked fourth nationally with 1.05 goals per game. Her 22 goals were the most by a Hawkeye since Kerry Lessard had 23 in 1998, and the 52 points were the most since Kerry Lessard had 56 in 1997.
Cafone was named the University of Iowa’s 2014 Female Athlete of the Year. She was named to the NFHCA Division I All-America second team, the NFHCA West Region All-America first team, the All-Big Ten first team, and the All-Big Ten tournament team.
“Getting used to the level of play and working with great players helped me be more successful,” said Cafone. “The coaching is great, and without them I would still be where I was freshman year.”
In June, she was named to the 2014-15 U.S. Women’s National Team.
“To make the team with still two years left in college is impressive,” said Cellucci. “The national team coaches are looking for speed and skill up front. She has the potential to have a great career with the national team.
“To have that kind of breakout season as a sophomore was incredible. She has the ability to repeat it, and she is on course to do that right now.”
Cafone leads the Big Ten in points (35) and goals (15), and ranks third nationally in points per game (3.18) and second nationally in goals per game (1.36), just over half-way through her junior season. She has scored in nine of Iowa’s 11 games, and scored or assisted in every game.
She is three goals from tying former Iowa All-American and her high school coach Diane (DeMiro) Simmons for 10th on the program’s all-time list with 48.
For Cafone, it is not about the individual success.
“I do not think much about the individual accolades, I like to focus on where our team should be,” she said.
What makes her so successful, in addition to her team-first mindset?
“When most people talk about Natalie, they mention her speed and scoring ability in front of the goal, but what brings her so much success is she is a competitor,” said Cellucci. “She does not like to lose at anything. Her competitive nature sets her apart from so many other people. Then you throw in her world-class speed and her skill, and it is a special and lethal combination.”
“Our work level is something we take great pride in,” said Cafone. “We have goals in front of us that we want to accomplish. We have to focus on our hard work, dedication, and preparation and get after it.”
The 10th-ranked Hawkeyes (8-3, 2-1) are getting after it so far in 2014, ranking second nationally in team scoring average at 3.68 goals per game.
Cafone’s presence alone opens up the offense.
“Natalie scores a lot of goals, but is compiling assists too, because people hone in on her and she is able to dish the ball off to our other great attackers and midfielders,” said Cellucci. “Teams are double and triple-teaming her, which opens up a lot of different options for our attack.”
The Hawkeyes wrap up a six-game homestand this weekend at Grant Field, hosting No. 14 Michigan on Friday at 7 p.m. (CT) and Miami (Ohio) on Sunday at 11 a.m.