By Michael McCurdy
The Iowa field hockey team opens up the Big Ten tournament as a No. 5 seed and will take on the No. 4 Northwestern Wildcats today at 4:30 p.m. EDT.
The Hawkeyes ended the regular season on a 5-1 run, which has given them a ton of momentum coming into this tournament where they need wins if they are looking at possibly qualifying for the NCAA Tournament.
Iowa and Northwestern have already played this season in what was a thriller. The Hawkeyes came away with the victory in overtime. Iowa head coach Lisa Cellucci said the team has been looking back at that game film quite a bit, but expects Northwestern to make a lot of changes coming into this game.
“We feel like we have a good game plan in place and we’ll be ready to go after them,” Cellucci said. “I think this time around they have the ability to make a lot more changes than we do just because of their numbers, but I think we have a lot of good options ready to go forward.”
This Iowa team is made up of a lot of underclassmen who do not have the experience in their arsenal that could help the team in the tournament. Experience is a very under rated aspect of sports, sometimes it can outweigh overall talent. Senior Chandler Ackers said she is not worried about her team’s lack of experience for the Big Ten tournament.
“I think this season has been very good for the freshmen,” Ackers said. “I think the freshmen have stepped up to the occasion and the sophomores as well are doing a great job. They are prepared for the game just like we are all because we know the magnitude and implications of this firstround game.”
This season the Wildcats are known around the conference to be the team with the best transition offense.
The contest earlier in the season between the Hawkeyes and Wildcats demonstrated how Iowa was able to counter the transition attack by not bending or breaking. Cellucci said the main focus this week is to get the defense prepared for a hungry Wildcat offense that preys on mismatches and defensive confusion.
The team does not seem to be focusing as much this week on the offense, but freshman Katie Birch said the team can always look to improve offensively and that yes, defensively the team is going to have to play well Thursday, but the offense must also play better than usual.
“We want to score as many goals as possible really,” Birch said. “We want to put them under a lot of pressure and get as many penalty corners as possible, and then be able to convert for goals. We have a lot of little tactics that can help us win the game.”
Taking a step back from the tournament on Thursday, it was announced yesterday that redshirt senior Natalie Cafone won Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and Birch won Big Ten Freshman of the Year. This is the first time in program history the Hawkeyes have received these two awards in the same season.
Ackers also received second team All-Big Ten honors along with Birch, while Cafone was honored with first All Big-Ten.
Follow @MMccurd for more information on the Iowa field hockey team.