The slipper -- cleat? -- still fits.
Iowa's soccer incredible, improbable, and historic Cinderella run through the postseason continued on Tuesday as the Hawkeyes followed up their four wins-in-four games march though the Big Ten Tournament with a win over Campebll in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The win over the mighty Fightin' Camels of Campbell was Iowa's first-ever win in the NCAA Tournament.
Iowa was drawn against Campbell in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Only the top 16 teams in the women's soccer NCAA Tournament get seeded, so both Iowa and Campbell were unseeded. The Camels went 8-3-1 overall and won the Big South Tournament thanks to back-to-back road victories over Radford and High Point. Campbell was ranked 43rd in the RPI rankings; by comparison, Iowa was ranked 138th, even after their stirring run through the Big Ten Tournament. Oh, and the game was on Campbell's home field, too. So there were a lot of factors stacked against Iowa in this game and plenty of reasons to think that their magical run might come to an end here.
The Hawkeyes, of course, had other ideas.
The game got off to a near-perfect start for Iowa, with the Hawkeyes scoring the opening (and only) goal just four minutes after the opening whistle. Iowa earned an early corner kick, which Samantha Cory sent into the box, where it found the foot of Sara Wheaton. Wheaton drilled a low shot across the front of goal and it used a fortuitous deflection off a Campbell defender on the goal line to glide into the back of the net.
Didn't take long for @HawkeyeSoccer to get on the board this afternoon!— Grant Becker (@GBeckTV) April 27, 2021
Samantha Cary corner leads to a Sara Wheaton shot and it deflects in for the opener less than four minutes in. #Hawkeyes pic.twitter.com/MP4hsMNZ9U
That gave Iowa an early 1-0 lead and as we've seen throughout this impressive run by Iowa, they're very very good about sitting back and defending once they've got a lead. They rode that gameplan to win after win after win in the Big Ten Tournament and it worked again here. Iowa smothered the Campbell attack and kept them locked down and without too many dangerous shots on goal for the remaining 85 minutes of the game. The Camels averaged 19 shots per game (3rd best nationally) and almost nine shots on goal per game this year, but managed just 8 shots all game, and just four on target. They were outshot by Iowa -- 12 shots to 8 and 5 shots on goal to 4 -- and the Hawkeyes aren't exactly an offensive juggernaut.
Keeper Macy Enneking was superb yet again, recording four saves while blanking the Camels. It was her fourth straight shutout in postseason action and her sixth since becoming the starter midway through the season. She's allowed just three goals in 866 minutes of action this year. But as good as Enneking has been, she's not a one-woman show; Iowa's defense is so stout because of the strength of their entire team. Iowa's defenders have excellent positioning and close out well, often making interceptions before opposing attackers can set up dangerous shots.
Check out that NCAA Championship First Round winner! pic.twitter.com/8gbE51yGGO— Hawkeye Soccer (@HawkeyeSoccer) April 28, 2021
Up next for Iowa is a Round of 32 date with UCLA on Friday (2 PM CT, ESPN3). Iowa will be huge underdogs in that game -- the Bruins were ranked 3rd in the final Coaches Poll and 5th in the RPI rankings and they earned the #3 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Bruins are very good and will pose a stiff test to Iowa's stout defense. But Iowa's been an underdog all season long. They weren't supposed to upset Illinois in the first game of the Big Ten Tournament. They weren't supposed to beat Minnesota the game after that. They definitely weren't supposed to beat #4 Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal -- on the Nittany Lions' home field, no less -- and they weren't supposed to follow that up with a win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament final, either. Nor were they favored to beat Campbell today, either. But the Hawkeyes keep winning, keep surviving and advancing, despite what the rankings and the stats might suggest. They're fully playing with house money at this point, but they've full of confidence, too. An in-form goalie and a strong defense can keep any team in a soccer match; why not try to slay one more giant this season?
This magical run was unexpected given Iowa's form for most of this season -- even after this stunning five-game winning streak in postseason play, their overall record for the year is still just 7-8-1 -- but it's in line with the overall trajectory of the Iowa program over the last few years. This is Iowa's third NCAA Tournament appearance -- and they've all come since 2013. Iowa lost 4-1 to Notre Dame in 2013 and 1-0 to Kansas in 2019. This season was supposed to be more of a rebuilding year for the Hawkeyes after losing 14 seniors last season, but instead they've managed to get red-hot at the best possible time and put together arguably the greatest run in program history.
GO IOWA AWESOME indeed.