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Big Ten bye for field hockey means finale at Ball State

BY NICK SZAFRANSKI | OCTOBER 28, 2011 7:20 AM

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The No. 11 Iowa field-hockey team has a game scheduled today against nonconference foe Ball State.

But all eyes will be on the Big Ten scoreboard.

Iowa (13-3, 4-2 Big Ten) sits a half-game behind first place No. 7 Michigan (4-1); the Wolverines will host No. 22 Indiana (2-3) this weekend. Penn State is third at 3-2 with a home game against Michigan State left.

Iowa will play the Cardinals this afternoon in Muncie, Ind., in its regular-season finale.

"We had our two losses back-to-back," head coach Tracey Griebsbaum said. "Ever since then, we have showed an increase of our determination and really getting primed to perform. We were overly anxious before, and now the last five games have been really solid in all aspects. It's really vital because there can't be any let-downs."

The Hawkeyes ride a five-game win streak into Muncie, including victories against then-No. 18 Indiana, No. 17 Ohio State, and No. 20 Northwestern.

Ball State (3-14) may seem overmatched, but the Cardinals' home-field advantage could pose a problem for the Hawkeyes. Iowa typically waters its field at halftime during games, while Ball State usually does not.

"We are going to be playing … [on] possibly on a dry turf," junior Jessica Barnett said. "That isn't something we're used to. We have a target on our back, and they'll be gunning for us."

The Hawkeyes would flip their record from last season with a win against the Cardinals; Iowa finished 3-14 in 2010.

"We have the possibility of turning our record around," Barnett said. "We were 3-14, and we could be 14-3, that would be pretty incredible if we could do that."

Griesbaum said today's matchup is essential in terms of having a chance to make the NCAA Tournament, which begins on Nov. 12. A loss to Ball State has the potential of knocking the Hawkeyes out of what would be their first tournament berth since 2008. That year, the Black and Gold advanced to the Final Four.

"It is really vital," Griesbaum said. "This Ball State game is really vital to our development, to our record, and to putting ourselves in a position to elongate our season."

The matchups elsewhere in the Big Ten this weekend will be crucial in terms of what seed Iowa will earn for the conference tournament, which will start on Nov. 3 in University Park, Pa.

The Hawkeyes are 11-time regular-season Big Ten champions and four-time tournament champions.

"We will make sure we are clicking on all cylinders," sophomore Kelsey Mitchell said. "We want to make sure we work out all the last-minute kinks. We have to be sure we are bringing our best effort and our A-game to the Big Ten Tournament."


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