By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Michelle Murgatroyd played field hockey at the University of Iowa from 1985-88, so when its Final Four team of 1988 was honored Sept. 14-16 at Grant Field, she had to attend.
Murgatroyd, who lives in Cape Town, South Africa, realized that you can come home again, but that doesn’t guarantee a direct voyage. First was a 12 ½ hour flight to Amsterdam, followed by a two-hour layover. Next was an 8 ½ hour flight to Detroit, followed by a four-hour layover. Then came a 90-minute flight to St. Louis, followed by a four-plus hour drive to Iowa City.
“It was totally, totally worth it,” Murgatroyd said. “It has been amazing.”
She was one of more than 70 former Hawkeye field hockey players, many from the 1983, 1988, 1993, and 2008 teams, that returned for an Alumni Weekend that prompted rave reviews from all. To top it off, the current Hawkeyes extended their winning streak to six matches with back-to-back 3-0 victories over Penn on Friday and Indiana on Sunday in the Big Ten opener.
“This is a very good team that we have this year,” said Dr. Christine Grant, who was women’s athletics director at Iowa when the sport was elevated to varsity status in 1973. “The coaches have built a dynasty here. We have had some of the very best coaches that have ever been produced by the USA. They built such a great foundation.”
In 1983, the Hawkeyes finished 19-3-2, won the Big Ten championship, and advanced to an NCAA Regional Final. In 1988, the Hawkeyes finished 19-6 and made it to the NCAA championship match, where they lost to Old Dominion, 2-1. In 1993, the Hawkeyes finished 18-4 and advanced to the Final Four. In 2008, the Hawkeyes were 18-5, won the Big Ten Tournament, and won two NCAA Tournament matches to reach the Final Four.
“It’s a very special time for all us,” said Caroline Blaum, who played from 2004-08. “Having been brought up through the program, we hear about all these women; they are the names that hang all over our locker room, so to put faces to names and also the life experience with it, it has been a special, surreal weekend.”
Kris (Fillat) Buchanan played for Iowa from 1988-92 and was inducted into the Iowa Varsity Club Hall of Fame in 2017. She is also a member of the USA Field Hockey Hall of Fame and after many years as a member of the U.S. Women’s National Team and playing all over the workd, she knows there is something special about Iowa.
“No one has what we have here,” Buchanan said. “It always starts from the top and the tradition. It comes from not just winning, but a sense of pride and that comes from Dr. Grant, (head coach) Judith (Davidson), Begs (head coach Beth Beglin), (head coach) Tracey Griesbaum, down to (current head coach) Lisa (Cellucci). They continue to make it special. You come back and you feel special because they tell you that you are special.
“There is a bond, a lot of people took risks early on to come out to Iowa.”
The risks could be because field hockey is not played in the state of Iowa, meaning the Hawkeyes’ roster is populated every season by student-athletes from the likes of Pretoria, South Africa (Murgatroyd), Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania (Blaum), San Diego (Fillat), or Pennsauken, New Jersey (Erica Richards-Reilly).
Richards-Reilly, who was inducted into the Iowa Varsity Club Hall of Fame in 2007, played for the Hawkeyes from 1986-89. Home matches during her first two seasons were played inside Kinnick Stadium; on Sept. 15, during a break in the first quarter of Iowa’s 38-14 football victory over Northern Iowa, the four alumni field hockey teams were recognized in front of 69,250 fans inside Kinnick Stadium.
“To see the crowd and the appreciation they have for women’s sports here, in particular the field hockey program, was amazing,” Richards-Reilly said.
“That was mind-blowing,” she said of the reception inside Kinnick. “We have rugby in South Africa, which is also quite big, but nothing like this. It is amazing and overwhelming.”
According to Grant, who was women’s athletics director at Iowa from 1973-2000, much of the credit for the success of Hawkeye sports like field hockey can be traced to the commitment the university made to its women student-athletes.
“This university made the best commitment to women’s equality that any university has ever made,” Grant said. “This was a commitment that went far beyond what other universities were doing. That made women feel empowered and gave them the confidence to go out and make a difference in this world.”