The University of Iowa soccer team opens its 2021 spring season Saturday, facing Wisconsin at 6:30 p.m. (CT) at the Mercyhealth Sportscore Two Complex in Loves Park, Illinois. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, fans will not be permitted to attend the contest.
• Saturday’s game is expected to be streamed live on BTN+.
• Live stats will be available on hawkeyesports.com.
• Fans can follow the Iowa soccer program on Twitter (@HawkeyeSoccer) for live in-game updates.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
• Head coach Dave DiIanni enters his seventh season at the helm of the soccer program. In 2019, DiIanni led the Hawkeyes to a 15-5-1 overall record and an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament for the second time in program history.
• Iowa returns six starters from a team that won a school-record 15 games in 2019. The Hawkeyes must replace a senior class that accounted for 25 goals and included the all-time wins leader Claire Graves in goal.
• Three Hawkeyes — Hailey Rydberg, Sara Wheaton, and Samantha Cary — were named to the Big Ten Preseason Honors List. Iowa was picked to finish sixth of 14 teams in the preseason coaches’ poll.
• Junior Samantha Tawharu and sophomore Gianna Gourley return as the team’s top two goal scorers with five apiece. Tawharu scored five goals on just 19 shots and she finished with 15 points — one off the team lead.
• The Hawkeyes have eight newcomers — all freshman — to round out the 28-player roster.
• Juniors Hailey Rydberg and Riley Whitaker were voted team captains for the 2021 spring season.
• The Hawkeyes will play 11 games over a seven-week period before competing in a Big Ten Wildcard Weekend from April 8-11. The semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament will be held April 15, but it will include only four teams.
• The Hawkeyes posted seven Big Ten victories, which tied for the most in a single season in school history in 2019. Iowa also won a school-record seven Big Ten games in 1999 and 2014.
• Iowa’s fifth place Big Ten finish tied for the second-highest finish in program history.
• The Hawkeyes finished the season ranked fifth in the United Soccer North Region rankings.
IOWA IN SEASON OPENERS
The Hawkeyes are 4-1-1 in season openers under head coach Dave DiIanni, including a 1-0 overtime victory over UNI in 2014. That was DiIanni’s first career win at Iowa.
• Last season, Iowa defeated Western Michigan, 2-0, in its opener. It was the first of nine consecutive victories to open the season.
The Hawkeyes most experienced position on the roster is the defender position where juniors Sara Wheaton and Riley Whitaker and sophomore Sam Cary started every game in 2019. The trio was instrumental in Iowa allowing just 18 goals in 21 games and posting six shutouts.
• The trio has started 98 combined games in their Hawkeye careers.
A year after having one of the most veteran teams in the nation, the Hawkeyes will be one of the youngest. Iowa has only one senior on the 2021 spring roster in Diane Senkowski. Eighteen of the 28 players on the roster are underclassmen.
WHO’S IN GOAL
For the first time in four seasons, Iowa will have a starter not named Claire Graves in goal. Redshirt sophomore Monica Wilhelm is the only goalkeeper with game experience. She made three appearances during the 2019 season, surrendering one goal in 98:19 minutes.
2021 HOME GAMES “AWAY” FROM HOME
The Hawkeyes will play “home” games away from Iowa City for at least the early portion of the 2021 season. Iowa will play its first two home games at the TBK Banks Sports Complex in Bettendorf on March 4 and March 8. The Hawkeyes also could also play games in Cedar Rapids at Mount Mercy.
• The Hawkeyes have 28 players on the 2021 roster, which includes 10 freshmen/redshirt freshmen.
• Junior Samantha Tawharu and sophomore Gianna Gourley return after combining to start 16 games (eight apiece) during their first Hawkeye seasons. Junior Skylar Alward scored two goals in 18 games as a reserve as a sophomore
• The Hawkeye midfielder will be anchored by junior Hailey Rydberg. The St. Charles, Illinois, native started 11 games as a sophomore and has 24 career starts. Junior Josie Durr has three career goals in 33 career games (11 starts).
• Along with sophomore Monica Wilhelm, the Hawkeyes have a total of three underclassmen at the goalkeeper position. Redshirt freshman Sabrina Shaw and freshman Macy Enneking have no collegiate experience.
• The Hawkeyes welcome eight newcomers to the mix in 2021, including two players — Enneking and Jayln Mosley — who joined the program last January.
• Forward/defender Aleisha Ganief played on the Canadian National Team, joining Tawharu, who was a part of the New Zealand Youth National Team prior to becoming a Hawkeye.
NEW DIGS ON THE HORIZON
Construction is underway on the new soccer operations facility at the Iowa Soccer Complex. The $4 million facility, which is expected to open in time for the 2021 fall season, will include a spacious locker room and lounge area, multi-purpose space, athletic training space, visiting team and official locker rooms, and a press box.
• The Badgers are the reigning Big Ten champions after they posted a 16-4-2 record and a 10-0-1 mark during the 2019 season. Wisconsin advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament before falling at UCLA.
• Wisconsin was selected to finish second behind Penn State in the preseason coaches’ poll.
• Cameron Murtha is the Badgers’ top returning goal scorer as she found the next six times during the 2019 season. She also had four assists for 16 points.
• Jordyn Bloomer returns in goal after surrendering just 12 goals and posting 12 shutouts in 2019. Bloomer made 68 saves in 22 games.
• Iowa is 5-14-4 all-time against Wisconsin with its last victory coming in 2012.
• Last season, the Hawkeyes battled the Badgers to a 2-2 draw in Madison. Iowa was the only Big Ten school to get a point from Wisconsin during the regular season.
The Hawkeyes will return to action Feb. 25, traveling to Champaign, Illinois, to face the Fighting Illini.