By Taylor McNitt
Despite “resilience” and “grit” being on the lips of the players, coaches, and fans, that doesn’t change the fact that No. 22 Iowa field hockey recorded two losses this past weekend, 5-4 against No. 10 Northwestern and 3-2 against No. 3 Michigan.
Both contests featured competitive games, but Iowa could not finish.
On Sunday, Iowa came out to the field ready to prove itself against Michigan. The Hawkeyes did, but too late to pull out a win.
“We knew we had to come out right away against this team because we knew they were really good,” said freshman Nikki Freeman, who slapped the ball into the net on a chaotic cross to score the first of Iowa’s 2 goals. “In the first half of the season, we were coming out slow against teams. We know that we have to start out strong against teams and stay strong, and we have to dictate tempo.”
And Iowa generally did, keeping the game scoreless against arguably its toughest opponent yet for the first 24 minutes. But once Michigan broke the ice, the Wolverines scored again in the 26th minute and again seven minutes after that. All of them crushing Iowa’s fighting spirit at the time until the buzzer ran out in the first half, with Michigan leading 3-0.
Iowa didn’t stay down, though. Freeman’s goal got the Hawkeyes on the board in the 42nd minute, and in the 63rd minute, Katie Birch made the score 3-2 and gave the Hawkeyes a fighting chance.
“We obviously have a great bounce-back ability, it’s just the situation you don’t want to be in,” Birch said. “You don’t want to be 3-0 like that against Michigan, but I think it shows great resilience and grit that we can try to pull it back. Three-two definitely doesn’t show how the game should have gone for us, but next time, next week for sure, we’re definitely going to show how Iowa can perform.”
For seven frenzied minutes after Birch’s goal, with near-miss shots and lost opportunities, Iowa was unable to equalize the score for an overtime opportunity to pull out a win.
There’s no question that Iowa had a good showing in both games once everything was on the line, but head coach Lisa Cellucci noted there were some shortfalls.
“What really hurt us was stick-to-stick passing and just being able to keep the ball on the field, and we need to keep working on our team defense,” she said.
On Oct. 13, Iowa faced off against Northwestern, and it didn’t pan out as the coaches had planned. The final score was 5-4 in Northwestern’s favor.
“We didn’t come out like we wanted to start the game,” said sophomore Sophie Sunderland. “The beginning of both halves, we didn’t capitalize within the first few minutes, so that’s disappointing.”
Sunderland scored 1 of Iowa’s 4 goals, but the Hawkeyes found themselves behind early.
Northwestern came out strong, scoring 2 goals in the nine minutes. For the rest of the first half, Iowa had to fight back to tie up the match before halftime. The second half followed almost the exact same narrative.
“We thought we had really good resilience, coming back from 2-0 to 2-2, and then 4-2 back to 4-4,” Birch said. “We know that there were a lot of mistakes we made, and we can’t let ourselves drop off or not keep up the intensity. It demonstrated that we kept letting them get 2 on us; it was always two minutes after the first goal, so we were like, ‘The next two minutes really count,’ but we didn’t stick to that.”
No team could squeak out a final goal in regulation, so the game headed to overtime, where the Hawkeyes let the contest slip in the fifth minute, when Wildcats scored, ending the game at 5-4.
After the two losses, it’s now or never for the Hawkeyes.
“Our backs are against the wall now,” Cellucci said. “We need to get some wins to extend our season into the postseason. [Urgency is] something we’ve been talking about, and I think it’s something our young team is finally understanding. We need to compete for 70 minutes. [The team] just showed a lot of grit. We talked about it at halftime and readjusted and refocused, and we really put Michigan under some serious pressure in the second half. It’s just unfortunate.”