Nationally-ranked Iowa field hockey to debut at Big Ten/ACC Challenge

BY DI STAFF | AUGUST 26, 2011 7:20 AM

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The No. 23 Iowa field-hockey team will open its season Saturday at the Big Ten/ACC challenge in Ann Arbor, Mich.

The tournament is aptly named; it will indeed be a challenge for the Hawkeyes, because the squad is set to face No. 11 Wake Forest at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday and No. 2 North Carolina on Aug. 28.

Iowa has not fared well in the 10-year history of the challenge, going 3-15. Iowa's record doesn't get any better when it comes to its matchups with its upcoming ACC foes — the Black and Gold are 2-9 all-time against the Demon Deacons and 3-20 against the Tar Heels.

Iowa fell to both teams last year in Chapel Hill, N.C. — 3-1 against Wake Forest, and 3-0 to North Carolina.

"Every player realized [last year] was not going to come easy," head coach Tracey Griesbaum said. "It is a tough lesson to learn, but I think we learned it — we learned it the hard way."

Griesbaum said the losses were a major motivating factor in the off-season.

"They bought into the work and the diligence that is needed," she said. "Every returning player came back at a higher level. We only lost two seniors last year. We made a commitment that, if everyone came back at a better place, the team would be at a better place.

"Our leadership on and off the field is really good for a young team."

After a Final Four appearance in 2008, the Hawkeyes went 3-14 last season. However, the team appears poised to take a step in the right direction with a strong nucleus of young players.

Among the 15 returning players is standout junior Jessica Barnett, a second-team All-Big Ten selection last season, and two players — junior goalkeeper Kathleen McGraw and junior forward Sarah Drake — who were named to the U21 Junior National Squad this summer.

"We were talking about [wanting to return to form] in the locker room," Griesbaum said. "The past nine months have been the longest for me in my life. I know I'm a lot older than the team and the players, so we acknowledge the chronological difference, but the returners said it has been a long, great five months. They were very diligent starting in November of 2010; they went after it.

"We have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go."

— by Nick Szafranski

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