By Taylor McNitt
After a tough fight against Duke, Iowa field hockey looks forward to two home games this weekend against tough Big Ten opponents, No. 9 Northwestern and No. 3 Michigan.
“We were definitely the better team in the second half,” sophomore Sophie Sunderland said about the Duke game. “We’ve got two Big Ten teams coming up, Northwestern and Michigan, and if we can play like we did in the second half, we’ve got a pretty good chance.”
Iowa fended off the Duke’s pummeling offense in the first half and came out on the attack in the second.
The Hawkeyes don’t focus on how they were unable to pull through with the win, but what they can learn to better their play this weekend.
“I think it gives us momentum for this week,” sophomore Katie Birch said. “We definitely showed Duke what we were, and they definitely underestimated our ability, because we got the 2 goals against them. Northwestern and Michigan are both incredible teams, so we’re very excited knowing we can take Duke 4-2. We’re ready.”
As far as Northwestern goes, Iowa leads the overall series between the two teams. Last year, Iowa beat the Wildcats, 2-1, in the regular season. But in the Big Ten Tournament, Northwestern topped the Hawkeyes, 3-1.
This season, Northwestern has come out strong, sporting a record of 10-4 this season, as opposed to Iowa’s 5-8. All of Northwestern’s losses have come from top-15 teams, one of them being Duke, a 1-0 defeat.
“Both teams have great defenses, but they’re very dangerous up front, in their attack,” said head coach Lisa Cellucci. “Against Northwestern, we’re really honing in on our final third defense, because they’re very savvy with the ball. They look to draw a lot of penalty corners, so we’re really trying to play some big team defense.”
Looking at Michigan, the Hawkeyes are guaranteed a tough match. While the Hawkeyes lead the overall record between the two teams, the Wolverines have become a top competitor. Iowa hasn’t had a win against Michigan since 2009.
The Wolverines have an 11-2 record this season, putting them in first place in the Big Ten. They’ve defeated North Carolina, Wake Forest, Rutgers, Penn State, and Maryland, all of which have wins over Iowa. Michigan’s only losses from William and Mary and current No. 1 Connecticut.
“For Michigan, just how we’re going to press them [is going to be the focus],” said Cellucci. “They really stretch the field, and they thrive on transition. So again, team defense is the overall theme.”
If Iowa is going to pull out wins over the two opponents this weekend, it’s going to have to rely on basics. Connecting passes will be key to keeping the ball away from Northwestern and Michigan’s defenders, and breaking up offensive plays will be key to Iowa’s defense, something the Hawkeyes need to stress the entire game.