By Jordan Zuniga
Assists might not be the flashiest stat there is, but they are crucial to spreading out defenses and scoring goals.
The importance of assists is not lost on the Iowa soccer players, and they are tied for 10th in the county with 19. Senior midfielder Karly Stuenkel thinks the number of assists the Hawkeyes racked up in nonconference play shows how much the offense has grown from last year.
“It just says that our offense has come around especially since last year,” she said. “It shows that we’re unselfish, that we’re willing to give the ball to other players to score. We like to sustain possession, so [ball movement] is extremely important in the final third.”
Stuenkel and fellow midfielder Natalie Winters have been the offensive facilitators so far this year, and they have combined for 8 assists.
Winters is the team leader with 5 assists, which puts her top-10 in the country.
For her, setting her teammates up to score brings her more pride than kicking the ball in herself.
“I like to make people around me look better and help them score,” Winters said. “So I think getting assists and getting forward and pressuring other teams’ backline is really helping out the team. It helps our forwards get open, and it helps them get more chances.”
Iowa’s unselfishness has helped it score 17 goals in seven nonconference games, tied for second in the Big Ten.
Continuing to create chances will be important as the Hawkeyes head to conference play, where they only managed to score 4 times in 11 games last season.
Head coach Dave DiIanni thinks the high assist total is great, but he thinks the Hawkeyes need to find other ways to score if they’re going to be more consistent offensively.
“Our goals are either really highlight-reel goals, or we don’t score any goals,” he said. “I think that shows why we have a lot of assists. We’ve scored a lot of goals where there are multiple players involved in the play, and that’s great. But on the same token, we’ve got to be able to score some of the hustle-play ugly goals. It’s great we have a lot of assists, but we need to score goals that are someone fighting for the ball in the box and poking it in. We need more variety on how we score.”
DiIanni has a point; only 3 of Iowa’s 17 goals have come unassisted, and one of them was a penalty kick.
If the Hawkeyes want to score more goals than they did last season in the Big Ten, they are going to have to ensure some of those “hustle plays” find the back of the net.
Nebraska was set to be Iowa’s first Big Ten opponent, but the game was postponed beause many Husker athletes were ill throughout the week.
With the change, the Hawkeyes will next take on Penn State on Sept. 22.