Exciting news from the Olympic sports ranks, friends: Iowa is good at field hockey again! Iowa went 12-5 in the regular season this season and 2-1 in the Big Ten Big Ten Tournament, compiling a 14-6 overall record (4-4 in the Big Ten) and earning a #8 ranking in the final poll of the season.
In the Big Ten Tournament, Iowa beat two higher-ranked teams, Penn State and Michigan, before falling to Maryland in the title game. Iowa knocked off Penn State 3-2 in 2OT with Anthe Nijziel netting the game-winner in the 86th minute of play, on Iowa's only shot in the second overtime. Iowa's win over Michigan in the semifinals didn't require extra sessions, but it wasn't without drama -- Iowa jumped out to a 2-0 lead and then hung on for the finish, including battling off four consecutive penalty corners from Michigan in the final minute. In the final, Iowa gave up an early goal to Maryland, but out-shot the Terps 3 to 1 in the first half. Maryland grabbed another goal early in the second half and while Iowa grabbed a goal a few minutes later to cut the lead to 2-1, they were unable to score a tying goal in the final minutes of the second half.
The wins over Penn State and Michigan were Iowa's first wins in the Big Ten Tournament since 2013 and the runner-up finish was their best in the Big Ten Tournament since 2013, when they also finished as runners-up in the league tournament. But that strong finish, coupled with Iowa's strong body of work over the season, earned them an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament, their first appearance there since 2012. Iowa will face Wake Forest in their first game; Iowa beat Wake 2-1 in the season opener earlier this year. If Iowa beats Wake, they'll likely face Duke in the next round -- the Blue Devils are the #4 overall seed and face the winner of the Boston University-Miami (OH) game. (The field hockey bracket is a little weird, as 18 teams make the tournament.) Of course, if Iowa does face Duke, there will also be some added intrigue, as Scott Dochterman noted:
If Iowa beats Wake Forest on Thursday, the Hawkeyes face Duke on Saturday. Duke has a volunteer assistant coach named ... Tracey Griesbaum. https://t.co/ot0SG8HuZ0— Scott Dochterman (@ScottDochterman) November 5, 2018
Griesbaum, of course, is the former head coach at Iowa -- she was in charge of the Iowa program the last time they made the finals of the Big Ten Tournament and appeared in the NCAA Tournament. Griesbaum was controversially fired by Gary Barta days before the 2014 season, the first in a chain of events that led to multiple investigations and allegations of discrimination from Griesbaum and her partner (and former Iowa athletic department employee) Jane Meyer, and ultimately resulted in the university settling lawsuits from Griesbaum and Meyer for $6.5 million (after a Polk County jury had found in favor of Meyer in one of her lawsuits against Iowa). We haven't seen a situation this potentially awkward involving an Iowa team since the basketball team went to Europe and played a French team that had Pierre Pierce on it.
But hopefully that storyline doesn't overshadow the fact that Iowa field hockey has had an excellent season to date -- and now has the potential to make some noise in the NCAA Tournament as well. That's a story worth celebrating. The program has (understandably) struggled to gain traction in the aftermath of Griesbaum's firing, but this season's results are a huge step in the right direction for head coach Lisa Cellucci & Co. Field hockey was once one of Iowa's most successful programs -- they were the best in the Big Ten in the 80s and much of the 90s and while getting back to the heady levels of those days may be difficult (especially with an east coast powerhouse like Maryland now in the conference ranks), it's great to see the program again having success and appearing in Big Ten championship games and NCAA Tournaments once again.
Best of luck to the Iowa field hockey team in their NCAA Tournament game against Wake Forest on Friday (1:30 PM CT).