I have a complicated relationship with penalty shootouts. On the one hand, they're incredible theater and the common sense path to a result after regulation and overtime have failed to separate teams. On the other hand, most shootouts are closer to a coin flip than a true showcase of talent or skill, and seeing a team lose because of a single player's tough break never quite feels fair.
I don't have any other solutions, I'm just here to vent a bit after watching Iowa field hockey compete last weekend in the NCAA Tournament. The Hawks took part in a pair of shootouts and while the drama was unmatched, it all felt a bit unfair that any of the teams had to lose.
Let's jump in.
Hawkeye Spotlight: Iowa Field Hockey
Hawkeye field hockey didn't finish the season with the momentum they would have hoped and was closer to limping into the NCAA tournament than anything else. Even so, the Hawkeyes knew how to flip the switch and pulled off the upset in the first round, winning 2-1 over Virginia to qualify for the Elite Eight. It was a tense match throughout, played under the sunset after a delayed start. The Hawkeyes took a 1-0 lead in the first half and fought off Virginia's flurry of attempts to tie the game. The Cavaliers were only able to find the equalizer off of a designed play to start the fourth quarter, leading to a tense final few minutes and overtime period. After 80 minutes weren't enough, the teams went to a shootout where freshman goalie Mia Magnotta came up HUGE to stop multiple Virginia shooters and help the Hawkeyes secure the shootout win.
Iowa's first round game was the perfect template for Iowa field hockey. The team played stout, sound defense, and came up with an opportunistic goal off an extraordinary individual effort from Esme Gibson. When Virginia found the equalizer, the veteran leadership of the group helped to keep the team settled and focused, to ensure a fluky goal didn't turn into panic. Throughout the match, the Hawkeyes calmly worked through Virginia's press and when it came down to crunch time in the shootout, the Hawks found a way to prevail. Mia Magnotta deserves her own shoutout here as well, providing top-level goalkeeping all weekend after starting her first career game just a week prior. The definition of seizing an opportunity.
Iowa's Elite Eight match saw them paired against Northwestern, who the Hawks beat earlier in the season when the Wildcats were ranked #1 in the country. Again, the Hawkeyes controlled the tempo against the Cats and came up with the first goal off of a penalty corner midway through the fourth quarter. It looked as though the Hawkeyes were going to be able to see the game out, but Northwestern found the equalizer off a penalty corner of their own to force overtime. Overtime saw both teams have chances that looked destined for the back of the net (including a Hawkeye shot that glanced off the post), but neither team was able to produce a game-winner, leading to another shootout. Mia Magnotta came up big again to stonewall the Cats, but Northwestern's goalkeeper was able to match that effort. It took extra shootout rounds (and a few Hawkeye goals that were unfortunately disallowed for taking too much time), but Northwestern was finally able to claim victory in sudden death.
The Hawks controlled much of Sunday's game against Northwestern, but weren't able to convert on a few prime opportunities during regulation and overtime. The Hawkeye field hockey style is not dissimilar to Iowa football, with a stout defense, and an opportunistic offense. On Sunday, the defense was as strong as ever (a huge accomplishment considering 5th-year senior goalie Grace McGuire didn't even make the trip due to injury), but the offense wasn't able to convert their chances until midway through the fourth quarter. It's as much a positive for Northwestern (who was a Top-5 team in the country all year) as anything, but you know the Hawkeyes will feel like they deserved the result Sunday. Once it reached the shootout, the Hawks no doubt felt confident but boiling an 11-on-11 game down to a few 1-on-1 tries means that anything can happen.
Even so, the Hawkeyes have a ton to be proud of, especially for how they bounced back from a tough stretch to end the year. The resiliency this team showed against some of the top teams in the country shows that these Hawks deserved their Elite Eight berth. The difference between the top teams is so slim, which means the bounces aren't always going to go your way, but these Hawkeyes battled all year and all tournament. Congratulations to Coach Celluccci and the entire Iowa field hockey team on their successful season.
- Iowa Volleyball was able to grab a win over the weekend, dropping a match against #4 Nebraska Friday before bouncing back to sweep Rutgers three sets to zero on Sunday for Senior Day. Rutgers isn't at the top of the Big Ten, but the Hawks did well to bounce back after being swept by Rutgers (in New Jersey) a few weeks ago. I'll keep preaching patience with this group, but it's always easier to endure the build-up phase when there are wins to celebrate.
- Hawkeye cross country competed at the NCAA Regional Meet last week, led by Emma Gordon and Konnor Sommer on the women's and men's sides respectively. Gordon led the Hawkeyes with an 18th-place finish en route to a 14th-place team finish for the women. Gordon improved nearly 100 spots from her 116th-place finish in the regional meet last year. On the men's side, Sommer finished 68th to pace the Hawkeyes who finished 17th as a team. Sommer ran a personal best at the meet, as did two other Hawkeye men.
- Iowa swimming and diving lost a meet to Minnesota over the weekend, but were able to secure multiple event wins along the way. The Hawks won the 1000m free (Alix O'Brien) and 100m breaststroke (Sheridan Schreiber) races and set thirteen career-best times throughout the meet. They'll host the Hawkeye Invitational on December 1st.