By JAMES ALLAN
BUIES CREEK, N.C. – Two weeks ago today, the University of Iowa soccer team did the unthinkable.
The Hawkeyes went to State College, Pennsylvania, and won for the first in program history in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament. Iowa competed the final 30 minutes with 10 players to defeat its highest-ranked opponent in school history in fourth-ranked Penn State.
On Friday, the Hawkeyes will draw from that experience when they square off against No. 3 UCLA in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament. Iowa will face the Bruins at 2 p.m. (CT) at the Eakes Sports Complex on the campus of Campbell University.
“What’s there not to be excited about?” said sophomore Samantha Cary. “We’re in the NCAA Tournament, we got our first win in program history against Campbell, and yes, UCLA is a great team and there is a lot of respect for them, but this team has been the underdog the entirety of this season.”
The Hawkeyes beat Penn State on April 15 and three days later they took down Wisconsin to claim the first Big Ten Tournament title in school history. Fast forward a week and Iowa made more history, downing Campbell, 1-0, to notch the first NCAA win in program history.
“The adversity this team has been able to face the last 4-5 weeks, whether it’s facing ranked opponents or playing on the road against the home team or having to win six games in a row to continue to play again together (has been incredible),” said head coach Dave DiIanni. “All those things, they have approached with great energy, effort, and collaboration as a group.”
“UCLA is going to give us a challenge, but we’re excited to rise to the occasion. We’ve been on this magical run and we want it to continue.”Sophomore defender Samantha Cary
UCLA is 12-1-2 overall and the Pac-12 Conference champion. The Bruins, who received an opening round bye in the NCAAs, have outscored their opponents, 33-11, this season and have posted seven shutouts. UCLA boasts the Pac-12 Goalkeeper, Midfielder, Freshman and Coach of the Year honorees.
“It’s easy to focus on our opponent and how incredible they are,” said DiIanni. “They are ranked No. 3 for a reason. They have an incredible amount of special players, specifically in the attacking area of the field, but at the end of the day, we have been focused on ourselves and what we can control.”
Cary says the Penn State win gives the Hawkeyes confidence. She believes it will take the same type of grind to be victorious and one of the final 16 teams standing come Friday afternoon.
“UCLA is going to give us a challenge, but we’re excited to rise to the occasion,” said Cary. “We’ve been on this magical run and we want it to continue.”
Friday’s game will be streamed live on ESPN3.