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. To receive daily news from the Iowa Hawkeyes, sign up HERE.
By BRANDEE BRITT
IOWA CITY, Iowa — After a successful preseason, the No. 17 University of Iowa field hockey team is ready to open the 2017 season against two ranked opponents.
“We had a great preseason,” said Iowa head coach Lisa Cellucci. “The team came in ready to go. Our goal has been to focus on the process and get better every day. I think we’ve done that.”
The Hawkeyes kick off the 2017 slate by hosting 15th ranked Wake Forest and top ranked North Carolina as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge at Grant Field this weekend. While opening weekend will be an early-season test, Iowa is used to taking on ranked foes as eight of its 2017 opponents are ranked in the Penn Monto/NFHCA Preseason Rankings.
“It’s common. We have a ton of ranked teams on our schedule,” Cellucci said. “We are usually the underdog on this first weekend, but we are excited to have them on Grant Field and we are going to go after them.”
“Playing ranked opponents on Grant Field gives us even more motivation,” said senior Mallory Lefkowitz. “It fuels us and it helps us bring even more energy and fire.”
Iowa returns 12 letterwinners from last season, including Katie Birch, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. The NFHCA second team All-West Region selection registered 28 points last season — the second-most on the team. Birch and seniors Lefkowitz and Melissa Progar are preseason All-Big Ten honorees.
The Hawkeyes also welcome eight newcomers to the 2017 roster.
“Our newcomers have been awesome,” said Lefkowitz. “It is always nice to have more numbers. Everyone comes from a different place and we all have different backgrounds. Everyone brings a part of their skills to the field and to Iowa.”
While the team looks young on paper, seven of Iowa’s 12 returners saw action in all 19 contests last season.
“Our returners have a lot of experience and that is going to help tremendously,” said Cellucci. “Our sophomores and juniors that played last year will benefit us, especially on opening weekend, because we know they have experience under their belts.
“We will also have a lot of newcomers in new positions on the field. That’s a positive, because we are only going to get better as the season goes on.”
With a roster mixed with newcomers and veterans, the Hawkeyes are ready to make their return to postseason play.
“We want to win and go as far as we can,” said Lefkowitz. “We want to make a statement in the Big Ten and get back to the NCAA Tournament.”
The Hawkeyes open Big Ten/ACC Challenge action at Grant Field on Saturday, taking on No. 15 Wake Forest at 2 p.m. (CT). Iowa then hosts No. 1 North Carolina on Sunday at 2 p.m. Admission is free.