By Jordan Zuniga
Iowa’s success this season has been partly based on the superb play from its sophomore class; all three of its leading scorers are sophomores, as is its starting keeper. It’s safe to assume that all the sophomores share a bond with each other, but possibly none are tighter than the one between midfielder Natalie Winters and defensive back Leah Moss.
Both hail from Plymouth, Michigan, and shared a spot on the ECNL Michigan Hawks for seven years, which they dubbed as their best time together on a soccer pitch.
Their friendship was destined to revolve around soccer; they met on the sidelines of their sisters’ soccer games.
“Our older sisters played on the same club team when we were younger,” Moss said. “So we actually played a little bit on the sidelines of their games.”
Soon after, the two women filled in their sisters’ cleats and began playing organized soccer themselves, cementing their nearly lifelong friendship.
“Her dad was our first coach,” Winters said. “So we’ve just grown up together. I think her mom is my second mom.”
Unsurprisingly, Moss agrees.
“She’s like a sister,” Moss said. “I mean growing up with her, we’ve just always known each other.”
While the two have usually been teammates on the soccer field, they have squared off against each other in another sport: basketball. Both women hail from the same city, but they attended rival high schools, and because Winters didn’t play soccer for her high school, basketball was the only sport the two competed against each other.
“We didn’t really guard each other, so we weren’t really up against each other,” Winters said. “But when she got the ball or I got the ball, we would always look to steal it from each other.”
Now, the two continue their friendship in Iowa City, where both are integral parts in the Hawkeyes’ success. Winters patrols the middle of the field, while Moss helps to prevent goals. Winters, Moss, and the rest of the Iowa soccer team will travel to Indiana this weekend to take on both Purdue and Indiana. The team is in high spirits after two big conference wins last weekend over Rutgers and Maryland.
Iowa posted shutouts in both games, and sophomore goalkeeper Claire Graves was recognized for her efforts by the Big Ten, which honored her as the Defensive Player of the Week.
“I think it’s paying tribute to the two shutouts,” Graves said. “I’m not one for the big awards, but I appreciate that they recognized that we worked hard and got two shutouts.”
This is the first honor of Graves’ career, and she is the first Hawkeye to be named Big Ten Player of the Week since Hannah Clark in 2014. Last weekend’s wins kicked Iowa up to No. 10 in the conference, but the squad needs to continue to play well this weekend in order to continue to climb its way up to a Big Ten Tournament. Only eight teams make the cut.
“We feel like we’re playing pretty good soccer,” coach Dave DiIanni said. “We also realize we’re in the Big Ten, and there are eight teams fighting for six spots. I think taking advantage of our chances, creating more opportunities to score and being better defensively are our keys for success this weekend.”
Iowa will play against Indiana in Bloomington at 6:30 p.m. today before heading up the road to West Lafayette on Oct. 15 to take on Purdue at noon.