Field hockey riding momentum


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The team that reaps the most end-of-year success isn’t always the one with the best record. It’s often the team that catches fire at the right time.

This year’s Iowa field-hockey team is looking to fit that mold.

Standing in the Hawkeyes’ way in the first round of this week’s Big Ten Tournament is fifth-seeded Michigan (7-13, 2-4 Big Ten), which will battle Iowa at 10 a.m. today in East Lansing, Mich.

The Hawkeyes scored three second-half goals to defeat the Wolverines, 3-2, on Sept. 25 in Ann Arbor, Mich. But now the stakes are higher.

Today’s winner will challenge top-seeded No. 8 Michigan State in the second round on Friday.
The Hawkeyes enter the tournament having won four of their last five games. Despite a 1-5 start, Iowa has managed to dribble and defend its way to an 8-9 overall record.

Senior Meghan Beamesderfer, who scored a goal in each of Iowa’s victories this past weekend against No. 11 James Madison and American University, said she feels the squad is playing its best hockey of the season.

“I actually think this was our best defensive and offensive weekend that we’ve had,” she said. “This [was] our first weekend that we came out with two big wins.”

More wins — three of them — are still needed. With an at-large NCAA bid out of reach, the Hawkeyes must win three games in four days to capture their fourth-consecutive Big Ten Tournament championship and earn an automatic berth.

These Hawkeyes aren’t as experienced as the ones that took home the 2007 and 2008 Big Ten crowns. But Iowa’s veterans, such as Beamesderfer, have helped the younger players, such freshman Sarah Drake, get an idea of what to expect.

“I think the message is just, ‘Expect the unexpected,’ ” said Drake, whose eight goals are the most by a Hawkeye this season. “A lot of times things can go much differently from what it is on paper.”

Iowa’s seniors would know. Drake said they have told her about the run of the 2006 squad.

That year, fifth-seeded Iowa entered the Big Ten Tournament with a 9-8 overall record. The Hawkeyes knocked off three of the top four seeds en route to their first of three-straight titles.

This year’s Hawkeyes are craving a similar result.

“We do have urgency,” Drake said. “We have to win it. I think we know, and I think it’s palpable. Like when you walk into the locker room, we’re preparing for these next games. Even though we beat American and James Madison, right after that we were like, ‘All right, the next step is Michigan.’ ”

No amount of senior leadership, no matter how good it may be, can fully prepare a freshman for the stage that awaits. Drake and the rest of the team’s youngsters have seen their share of important games, but the win-or-go-home dynamic is one that can’t be simulated.

“I’m not really going to be able to grasp it until I’m there and I’m playing on the field,” Drake said. “Like, ‘This is the Big Ten Tournament.’ This is what I used to think about when I was in high school. I used to go watch these games. It’s a little nerve-racking to know, because it’s tournament style, every game counts, and it’s for the rest of our season. We could be done after two games; you never know.”

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