By Taylor McNitt
This weekend, propelled by a win over Indiana, No. 23 Iowa will head to Durham, North Carolina, to face No. 2 Duke on Oct. 8.
“Duke is, in our opinion, the best team we’ll face yet this year, even [better than] No. 1 North Carolina,” field-hockey head coach Lisa Cellucci said.
Earlier this season in the second game of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, the kickoff to Iowa’s season, the then-No. 17 Hawkeyes faced the then-No. 1 Tar Heels. Iowa held its ground until late in the second half, when North Carolina scored 3 goals to secure a shutout win.
Despite the Hawkeyes being held scoreless, Cellucci think this matchup with the Blue Devils will pose an even bigger challenge, specifically because of their
“They have great speed in their forward and midfield line, and they’re very good distributors in the back,”
The last time the Hawkeyes faced the Blue Devils was in 2008; Duke leads the overall series between the two teams, 4-2.
So far this season, the Blue Devils boast a 9-1 record, remain undefeated against Big Ten opponents, and are victorious over seven of the eight ranked teams they’ve faced.
“We’ve been preparing a lot on how we’re going to defend them, how we’re going to press them, as well as our transition defense, which is probably going to be the biggest key to the game,” Cellucci said.
She believes the Hawkeyes have the ability to stop play, keep the ball in front of them —
ultimately stifling any Blue Devil momentum.
On paper, the tough task is easier said than done.
Duke’s statistical leader in shots and points is Rose Tynan, with 9 shots and 21 points. Goalkeeper Sammi Steele leads the ACC in saves (38) and is second in goals against average (.863) and shutouts (5).
Iowa has weapons of its own, however, especially in its young core.
Sophomore Katie Birch was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week on Oct. 2. The 2016 Big Ten Freshman of the Year leads Iowa in goals (12), points (27), and shots (52) and leads the Big Ten in goals and goals per game (1.00). She’s ranked second in points and points per game (2.25) and has three hat tricks under her belt.
“Duke’s definitely a strong team, and we’re excited to take them on,” she said. “If we do our basic skills, our passing, our dribbling, our general shots on target, we should be able to give a good fight.”
Iowa also sports freshman Maddy Murphy and junior Makenna Grewe.
Murphy, who has a Big Ten Freshman of the Week honor this season, ranks fourth in goals (7) and sixth in points (17) in the conference.
“This weekend, we’re focusing a lot around our execution and getting our plays into the circle,” she said. “We also worked a lot on our final passes and just combining well on all of the field, so hopefully if we can bring that together, we’ll have a really good game against Duke.”
Unlike Murphy, Grewe does her damage in the passing game, leading the Hawkeyes with 8 assists, third-best in the Big Ten.
“We need to work on our possession and the simple passes, stick-to-stick,” Grewe said. “It’s definitely improved throughout the season, but I think it’s going to be really important to have that down for Duke this weekend.”
Senior goalkeeper Katie Jones will also play an important role in the game against Duke. With 27 saves this season, that stat for Jones will need to increase if the Hawkeyes want to come out ahead.
Basic skills for effective defense and effective execution will be key to making Iowa a force to contend with, not only in its matchup with Duke but for the rest of the season.