By Taylor McNitt
This season, the Iowa field-hockey team misses a face that had been front and center for four years.
“Yeah, I mean, Natalie Cafone was a huge name for us for the last three years; two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, West Region Player of the Year, scored 20-plus goals,” said field-hockey head coach Lisa Cellucci.
Cafone, a 2017 Hawkeye graduate and field-hockey star, has left a legacy.
Some of her accolades include being named to the first-team All-Big Ten squad three times, being a two-time first-team All-American, 2014 Hawkeye Female Athlete of the Year, 2014 NCAA Field-Hockey Statistical Champion, and the Big Ten leader in the 2016 season in goals, goals per game, shots, shots per game, and points. She is the sixth all-time leading field-hockey scorer in Hawkeye history.
Not only has she left a legacy, though, but she’s also left a team that needs to rework its attack without her on the field.
“With Natalie, she was a big threat because she individually could run past most people, and she would be up-field all alone, and sometimes it allowed our team to not join and not play a balanced team attack,” Cellucci said.
Seniors Melissa Progar and Mallory Lefkowitz agree with Cellucci when it comes to their former teammate.
“Obviously, Nat provided a lot of strong attacking opportunities for us,” Progar said.
So questions arose about who would take over the scoring load.
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Sophomore Katie Birch is proving herself to be a potential star player like Cafone, but the Hawkeyes are thinking of a different approach from years past.
“I think our goal scoring will definitely be different, but just in the way that it’s not just totally on [Cafone] to get a goal,” Lefkowitz said. “I think that’s going to be a share of the workload up in the circle.”
Cellucci echoed her.
“We knew coming into this season that we were going to have to find a way to score goals without [Cafone], and that’s kind of what we’re still working on,” she said.
The games over this past weekend have given Iowa a good idea of where it can start and how it can move forward in attacks.
“Right now, we know exactly where we stand,” Cellucci said. “We played much better team defense on the second day, and that completely changed the game for us. [Our team defense] actually gave us some attacking chances that were just near misses.”
It’s clear that this year the focus will be on the team as a whole.
In the last two games, passing was prevalent, and the team plans on making it more so. With this strategy, every play will be a team effort.
“I think that we have a very strong team this year, and I think as a team we’ll be able to capitalize on the opportunities that we do have on attacks and score some goals,” Progar said.
The Hawkeyes are up to the task, both returning players and new faces alike.
“We definitely have a really good balance throughout the team,” Lefkowitz said. “A lot of quick forwards, a lot of skilled midfielders and skilled defense, so I think it really helps us move up the field together, more in unison.”
Balance is key.
Because a star player won’t carry the majority of the load, it’s up to the team to accept the challenge, which the Hawkeyes are prepared to do.
“We’re looking to be a little more balanced, create overloads in our offensive half and really have numbers in our attack,” Cellucci said. “That’s the way we feel we’ll be able to draw penalty corners, get more shots on goal, and hopefully, that’ll lead to more goals.”
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