By JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The University of Iowa soccer team is in its eighth week of the 2019 season and the Hawkeyes are preparing for their biggest test.
Iowa hosts No. 19/21 Rutgers at 7 p.m. (CT) on Friday before welcoming Maryland to the Iowa Soccer Complex for Senior Day Sunday for a 1 p.m. start. Admission is free to both contests.
“We’re looking at this as our toughest weekend,” said senior Hannah Drkulec. “Both teams have shown they are competitors in the Big Ten. They’re different, but they’re good at what they do. It’s going to be a challenge for us, but it’s going to be a lot of fun, especially since it’s senior weekend.
“We’re excited to have two good games.”
The Hawkeyes are coming off a 2-0 weekend, posting wins over Nebraska and Michigan State, to improve to 12-2 overall and 4-2 in Big Ten play. Iowa is third in the league standings with 12 points, while Rutgers and Maryland are both 3-2 in league play, sitting in a tie for fourth with nine points.
“Rutgers is the most explosive team we’ve played this year,” said Iowa head coach Dave DiIanni. “They have three or four players up top that if you give them space and time to run at you and they get in behind, they’re going to make you pay.
“We have to be dialed in defensively for 90 minutes.”
The Hawkeyes are coming off their sixth and seventh shutouts of the season after limiting Nebraska to nine shots and Michigan State to six shots. Rutgers is more dynamic with two of the top-five goal scorers in the Big Ten, while Maryland’s Alyssa Poarch is third in the league with eight strikes this season.
“Coming off our 2-0 weekend, this is our biggest test,” said Drkulec. “Do we have the grit to go back at it and work? These games are going to take everything we have for 90 minutes.”
The Hawkeyes will recognize 13 players during a pregame ceremony prior to Sunday’s against Maryland. Iowa’s seniors are: Bianca Acuario, Isabella Blackman, Sydney Blitchok, Devin Burns, Drkulec, Olivia Fiegel, Claire Graves, Kaleigh Haus, Cora Meyers, Leah Moss, Zoey Slettehaugh, Emma Tokuyama, and Natalie Winters.
“This senior class is incredible,” said sophomore Riley Whitaker. “We wouldn’t be where we are without them. Their leadership is remarkable and their motivation and how hard they push makes everyone around them better.”
DiIanni commends the senior class for building the culture of the program.
“A couple years ago, the last three weeks didn’t mean much to the program,” he said. “We hadn’t won enough early to know that with three weeks left the season is very much in our control and it matters.”
It matters Friday with the season’s biggest tests looming.
“We’re playing two teams this weekend that are feeling good about themselves,” said DiIanni. “I like how we’re playing, but the next three weeks are going to be challenging and important. It starts with two good teams at home.”