Iowa's Katie Birch passes the ball during a match against the University of Indiana field hockey team on Friday, Sept. 29, 2017. Iowa won the match 4-3. (David Harmantas/The Daily Iowan)

Birch: Iowa field hockey’s big ticket

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Sophomore Katie Birch is an important player for Iowa field hockey, despite being in only her second year with the program.

By Taylor McNitt

taylor-mcnitt@uiowa.edu

After notching a hat trick against Indiana, Iowa field hockey’s Katie Birch snagged the Big Ten’s Offensive Player of the Week.

“We’ve been working a lot on her corner execution, and she was on point [against Indiana],” said field-hockey head coach Lisa Cellucci. “That was outstanding. We knew where we wanted to attack Indiana on the penalty corner, and she hit her spots, so that was great performance by her.”

The hat trick against Indiana is the third of Birch’s career, the second this season.

Even beyond the hat tricks, she continues to make it clear that she’s a powerful force to contend with on the field. This is her third weekly honor from the Big Ten, which named her as the Big Ten Freshman of the Week twice last season and the 2016 Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

The last Hawkeye to receive the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honor was Natalie Cafone on Oct. 25, 2016.

“[Birch] possesses every single skill you want a hockey player to have,” Cellucci said. “She loves to win, and she plays really hard. I think she has a ton of potential. We just expect her to keep getting better and better and better.”

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For the majority of this season, the York, England, native has led the Big Ten in goals, points, and points per game.

Her leadership extends beyond the stats, though.

“You look to her, and she’s on our leadership council, and we look to her just to continue to lead the team,” Cellucci said. “She plays a central position for us, so she’s our main distributer in the back, and she’s our main piece on all of our set corners. We really look to her in most situations. It’s quite a burden to have, [but] she thrives on it, and we’re lucky to have her on our team.”

The burden, in Birch’s position, could be a lot to shoulder, but she seems to carry it well. As a captain, she must for the success of the team.

“I think I have a very important role,” she said. “Coming up as one of the captains is always kind of questionable because it usually goes to a senior. I think I’m doing all right so far, I hope. I’m really enjoying my role this year as a leader, [and] we’ll see if we carry on for junior, senior year.”

Birch’s position may be central to strategic play, but her role as a member of the team is just as important.

“She has a unique personality,” Cellucci said. “She’s very calming to the girls. She stays poised, but she also has a humor and a sarcasm to her, so she can make it really light at times when it gets pretty tense. She’s just always able to make a joke and make people feel really good about themselves, but when needed, she can push them, too.”

The team does respond well to Birch on and off the field.

“She’s a fantastic player, and everyone looks up to her,” junior Makenna Grewe said. “If we have any questions about field hockey, life, pretty much anything, she’s the one we can go to.”

Freshman Maddy Murphy also notes Birch’s value as a member and leader of the team.

“Even though she’s younger on the team, just a sophomore, she’s still respected, and everyone on the team really values her and what she has to say,” Murphy said.

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