By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — A deeper, more athletic University of Iowa women’s soccer team was on display Wednesday at Media Day on the team’s practice field.
UI head coach Dave DiIanni, entering his third season with the Hawkeyes, is excited for this group to “build our own story” after being selected 13th out of 14 teams in a Big Ten Conference preseason poll.
“I use it as coach motivation and the girls are using it as a reason to be consistent and come and compete every day in training and be prepared to give everything they have,” DiIanni said of the poll. “That was last year’s story, and we’re going to rewrite our own this year.”
Iowa opened the 2015 season with four consecutive victories. The Hawkeyes took a 6-1 record into conference play, but ended the season 7-10-1.
DiIanni likes the mix of youth and upperclassmen that should benefit from a schedule that opens with back-to-back road games at Creighton (Friday) and Missouri (Sunday).
“I like our schedule in terms of being able to play some games that allow us to build experience and depth with the young kids,” DiIanni said. “But we needed to get our RPI (strength of schedule) higher anyway, so what better way to do that than to play some of these teams on the road and see where we are early.”
The first home match for the Hawkeyes is Aug. 28 against Wyoming.
Twenty-two letterwinners and six starters return for Iowa. Six freshmen started the exhibition match against Northern Iowa on Aug. 12 (won by the Hawkeyes, 2-0).
“A lot of those kids that are making us deep are young, they are incoming freshmen or redshirt freshmen, but they are still talented,” DiIanni said. “They have to grow up quickly for us to have the season we want to have, but we are also led by older kids who have been around for a long time.”
Back for the Hawkeyes are the top two point scorers in senior forward Bri Toelle (five goals, five assists) and junior midfielder Karly Stuenkel (five goals, two assists). Toelle and sophomore Jenna Kentgen scored goals against the Panthers.
Toelle will be challenged to lead more than ever with so much talented inexperience at forward.
“Bri has to lead by example for us to have a foundation for others to fall into,” DiIanni said. “As we have more tools around her — and we do in the midfield in particular — she will have more success.”
The Hawkeyes are solid in the midfield with players like Kentgen, Isabella Blackman, Natalie Winters, Rachele Armand, and Hannah Drkulec.
Another challenge will be replacing goalkeeper Hannah Clark, who played all but 33-minutes, 37-seconds a year ago. Freshman Claire Graves gets the nod in goal against Creighton.
“Claire Graves is a different version of Hannah Clark, but has some similarities,” DiIanni said. “Cora Meyers has great potential. Emma Rigby had a good spring and Tina Cardamone — we replace them with competition and they push each other to be better every day. The best player plays on that day — this weekend that is Claire. She will be our No. 1, but every day she will get pushed by the other three.”
By DARREN MILLER