Hey everyone, it's fall again which means two things:
- We collectively suffer at the hands of a football coach who is morally opposed to the forward pass.
And more importantly,
- A bunch of kick-ass Olympic sports are back on the field doing what they do best.
I've covered a whole bunch of awesome Hawkeye sports teams these past few years and am super excited to be back to cover the 2022-2023 season. We're going to try something slightly different this year in terms of format and try to highlight the best team/player/game of each week. The hope is that this will give me a bit more space to dig in (read: ramble) with each team rather than just pass along the stats and results. If you've been reading these for a while, which means you're either my Dad, Ross, or WaterlooChazz (I really appreciate the weekly well-wishes), think the last few bullets for each sport where we talked a bit more about the context of the week's results.
This Week's Spotlight: Iowa Field Hockey
Fresh off an undefeated 2021 regular season, Iowa field hockey is back with a vengeance after a few heartbreaking post-season losses. Iowa started the season ranked #5 in the nation. Eight starters, including three All-Americans, returned along with back-to-back-to-back (!) Big Ten Coach of the Year Lisa Cellucci. The Hawks opened the season against two ranked opponents, besting #20 Wake Forest in double OT and losing to #2 UNC in OT (Iowa playing 4-D chess by taking off the pressure of another undefeated season early. That's the kind of growth and evolution you only see in the best teams).
Since that nail-biting loss, the Hawkeyes have allowed one goal in four games, dominating Boston and Saint Louis before hosting Providence and #22 Massachusetts this past weekend.
Providence was a step up from the lighter fare of Boston and Saint Louis and Providence hung with the Hawks in the first half. The teams were tied 1-1 to start the third period, but sophomore Annika Herbine took matters into her own hands, scoring an unassisted goal in the 31st minute, and following up with the insurance goal in the 41st minute to put the game away.
On Sunday Iowa put together an even more complete performance, shutting out #22 UMass 2-0 without allowing a single shot on goal. The Hawks scored two of their own to notch their fifth win of the year and third shutout.
I'm admittedly not a field hockey expert but I have spent a lot of time watching these Hawkeyes over the past three seasons and even I can tell that they make their money (hopefully literally now that NIL exists) on the defensive end. A lot of that comes from 5th year senior and All-American Anthe Nijziel who took home Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week Award last week, her sixth such award and one that she won three times last year. Nijziel is the anchor to a team that presses high and wants to stop shots at the source.
It can be hard to take back possession in the sport. If the ball goes out of bounds on the end line of your defensive end, the opposing team gets what is basically the equivalent of an indirect free kick in soccer (see Iowa's goal highlight above as an example). Keeping teams off the scoresheet in that situation is a tall order and Iowa often does one better and holds opponents without a shot entirely. The Hawkeyes make it even harder on opponents by pressing them in their own end and throughout the midfield, hoping to curtail offensive attacks before they even pass midfield. The top-ranked teams are organized and clean enough in their passes to cope, but most other teams are suffocated until they eventually fold under the pressure. And just in case you thought field hockey was a game of few shots, Iowa had 14 against #22 UMass.
Iowa field hockey is what Iowa fans can only dream of the football team being: stout, unrelenting defense coupled with a potent offensive attack. In a sport of haves and have-nots, Iowa sits firmly in the former category. The competition will heat up as Iowa enters Big Ten play against the likes of #1 Northwestern, #3 Maryland and #4 Michigan, but just because Iowa isn't #1 this year doesn't mean that they're not up to the task. You can expect a few more shots on goal (maybe), and there's even the opportunity that a few may slip in (unlikely), but Iowa is an experienced, well-rounded team led by one of the best coaches in the country. It's college sports and a sport that ends in a series of win-or-go-home games so a Cchampionship is never a sure thing, but Iowa field hockey is no doubt putting themselves in a situation to have a chance at something magical, and that's just about all you can ask.
We can't spotlight everyone every week, but here are a few other noteworthy performances.
- The Iowa women's golf team posted a pair of even scores to start Monday's tournament. Freshman Riley Lewis shot even in her first ever college tournament and Paula Miranda shot even as well to kick off the sequel to her successful freshman year. Both are tied for 18th after the first round. College Golf loves to host Monday-Tuesday tournaments, which is quite the nuisance for articles written on Mondays and published on Tuesdays (is there someone I can talk to about that?), but we'll do our best to keep everyone up to date.
Just because their not in the spotlight this week, doesn't mean they're not working hard. Here are the rest of the scores from last week's Hawkeye Olympic sports.
- Iowa volleyball scored a 5-set win over Wright State, before falling in 4 sets to both Iowa State and Drake. The team is in its first year of a new coach in one of the best conferences in America. The word of the year for this team is progress as they look to build a strong foundation for the future. The Hawks are 3-5 on the year.
- Iowa soccer fell 2-1 to ISU last week before rebounding to trounce Northern Iowa 6-0. These Hawkeyes seem to be firmly entrenched in the middle of the pack this season and will likely play in a lot of close games. Expect them to win a few games they shouldn't and lose a few games they should. They've no doubt taken a step forward since their winless Covid season that turned into a Cinderella postseason run and the potential for a similar finish without the rough regular season no doubt still exists with an experienced team and coaching staff. The Hawks now sit at 3-3-2 overall.
- Iowa cross country finished third on the men's side and sixth on the women's side at the Big Ten Preview last Friday. Iowa track and field has been killing it for a few years now, so hopefully, we'll start to see that translate onto the cross country group in the near future. The Hawkeyes will travel to Illinois State for the Redbird Invite this upcoming weekend.