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Iowa field hockey has tough final Big Ten matchup

BY NICK SZAFRANSKI | OCTOBER 21, 2011 7:20 AM

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The No. 11 Iowa field hockey team has had its share of ups and downs this season, but the Hawkeyes may play their most critical game of the season when they hit the road to face No. 20 Northwestern on Saturday.

The Hawkeyes (11-3, 3-2 Big Ten) have won three in a row and have the opportunity to solidify themselves in the top half of the Big Ten when they take on the Wildcats (10-6, 1-3) in Evanston, Ill., at noon Saturday in Iowa's final Big Ten game of the season,

"We're prepared and ready," junior Geena Lesiak said. "Our goal is right out in front of us, and we can almost grab it; we just have to finish it off."

Iowa's goal before the season was to finish in the top half of the Big Ten in order to have a high seed heading into the tournament. As the rankings stand right now, the Hawkeyes sit in third place — a half-game behind both Michigan (3-1) and Penn State (3-1).

But Iowa only has one game remaining, while the Wolverines and Nittany Lions have only two. With a win, Iowa would clinch at least a tie with Ohio State for the third seed.

"Depending on what happens in [Michigan's and Penn State's], games they both could end up 4-2," Lesiak said. "There would be a three-way tie for the regular-season Big Ten. Half of it is in our hands, and half of it is in two other teams' hands. We can definitely control our seeding by winning this game going into the tournament."

The task at hand may not be that easy for the Hawkeyes.

One particular Northwestern player has stymied teams across the nation this season: forward Chelsea Armstrong.

Armstrong, a junior, has 22 goals on the season. The native of Australia leads the Big Ten in goals and is third in the nation in both goals per game and points per game.

"Chelsea Armstrong is definitely a force to be reckoned with," head coach Tracey Griesbaum said. "We will take our game to their place and have our hands full."

After two straight losses to the two teams ahead of them, Iowa has used the losses as motivation on its way to a three-game winning streak.

"We have a mindset that we don't want to feel the way we did when we played Michigan or Penn State, when we lost," Lesiak said. "We don't want that to happen. We want to put our best game out on the field every single time, and if we don't, we will feel that way again."

And if history has anything to say, Iowa has had a firm grasp over the Wildcats. The Hawkeyes are 21-11-2 in Evanston, 50-18-4 all-time against Northwestern since the series began in 1977.

The Wildcats are not the only team the Hawkeyes face this weekend; Iowa will take on Pacific (2-10) in Evanston at noon Oct. 23.

"We want to come out with a win,"senior Becca Spengler said. "We are prepared, [and] if we put the best guys out on the field, we can do that."


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