FILE - Iowa midfielder Katie Birch advances towards the circle during a field hockey game against Fairfield at Grant Field on Friday, September 2, 2016. (The Daily Iowan/Joseph Cress)

Hawkeye field hockey clashes with top teams in ACC/Big Ten Challenge


Hawkeye field hockey will face two of the country’s top teams in its season-opener in Iowa City.

By Taylor McNitt

For the Iowa field hockey team, dynamics are different, and the team’s excited about what that means for this weekend and the rest of the season.

“We’re going to have a lot of new players and positions on the field, which is exciting for me,” head coach Lisa Cellucci said. “The sophomores and juniors who played last year, that’s going to be great for this weekend.”

This weekend, the Hawkeyes will host the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, taking on No. 15 Wake Forest on Saturday and No. 1 North Carolina on Aug. 27.

While North Carolina’s ranking hasn’t changed from last year’s position, both Iowa and Wake Forest have seen jumps — or falls — in their rankings.

Wake Forest, ranked at No. 7 in last season’s preseason polls, has fallen to No. 15 this year. Conversely, the Hawkeyes have jumped from the 2016 preseason ranking of No. 22 to take the No. 17 spot this year.

“[Teams ranked] anywhere from 10-17, we’re pretty even,” Cellucci said.

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The Hawkeyes pulled off a win against the Demon Deacons last year despite what the rankings predicted, so fans can be optimistic about Saturday’s game.

Not only will the team dynamics be different, but so will the dynamics on the teams themselves. Wake Forest is returning its top two goal-scorers and its top three in assists, while Iowa has lost its top and third goal-scorers and has added eight players to the team.

“I’m really excited,” said sophomore and 2016 Big Ten Freshman of the Year Katie Birch. “I think [the new players are] going to help, especially when we combine [with the experienced players]. It’s going to be good.”

Senior Mallory Lefkowitz has a similar opinion.

“I definitely think it’s going to give us a lot of opportunity,” she said.

The opportunity will come on Aug. 27, when the Hawkeyes face No. 1 North Carolina. The Hawkeyes lost to the Tar Heels last season, 2-1.

Their hopes seem to be higher this time around.

“I think [the difference between North Carolina’s ranking and ours] actually gives us more to give,” Lefkowitz said.

North Carolina has lost its top scorer, but it boasts junior Ashley Hoffman, who was on the U.S. Women’s National Team. The Hawkeyes are sure to face a tough match, but whatever the outcome, it will be a great opportunity for them to grow.

“We’re ranked 17th, which is really optimistic,” Birch said. “We have a lot to share.”

With three players who have earned preseason honors (Birch, Lefkowitz, and senior Melissa Progar), three players who participated in the USA Developmental Squad National Camp (junior Makenna Grewe, Lefkowitz, and Progar), 12 returning letter-winners, and eight new players ready to prove themselves, the Hawkeyes certainly do have a lot to share and are ready to take on any team they face.

“We had a great preseason,” Cellucci said. “The team came into the season really ready to go, [and we’re] getting better every day.”

The Hawkeyes will play at Grant Field on at 2 p.m. Saturday versus Wake Forest and Aug. 27 at 2 p.m. versus North Carolina. Admission is free.

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