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Iowa field hockey recruits from East Coast

BY TAYLOR AXELSON | JULY 19, 2012 6:30 AM

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Not a single player at the Iowa field-hockey camp this week was an Iowan. All the campers traveled from towns mainly on the East Coast.

The state of Iowa has no field-hockey programs besides the Hawkeyes'. Not even in grade schools.

"Back in the '50s and '60s, field hockey was taught in gym classes, but I guess it was a sport that didn't catch on. Basketball, volleyball, baseball, and football became popular, and field hockey faded out," Hawkeye associate head coach Lisa Cellucci said.

The Hawkeyes have a tradition of excelling in field hockey, having won 12 Big Ten titles and advanced to the Final Four 11 times — including a national title in 1986. Iowa has produced 79 All-Americans and six Olympians.

A lot of the field-hockey team's success has come from the consistency and focus on Iowa's tradition, Cellucci said. Iowa has one of the best facilities compared with other colleges in the country. The program has had more All-Americans and Olympians go through it than anywhere else in the country besides three schools on the East Coast.

"All of our incoming freshmen are from the East Coast," head coach Tracey Griesbaum said. "The campers are mainly athletes we are recruiting."

All three coaches for Iowa came from Pennsylvania, where field hockey is one of the biggest sports for women. The lack of knowledge about the sport in Iowa was something that Griesbaum quickly got used to.

"Nationally speaking, Iowa is well-known in field hockey. If you're talking about a 7-year-old in Iowa, she probably doesn't know anything about it, because she's never been exposed to it," Griesbaum said. "We do some after-school programs for kids a few times a year, and the kids love it — they get giddy excited about it, especially the boys because they want to wear the pads and throw the stick around."

Assistant coach Meghan Beamesderfer knows firsthand what it is like coming into a state that has little knowledge of the sport that she loves. Beamesderfer lettered as a Hawkeye student-athlete from 2006-09 and led the Hawkeyes to the NCAA Final Four in 2008.

"It's a little hard, but it's also a lot of fun. People come up to you and ask 'What's field hockey?' and you get to explain it to them," Beamesderfer said. "We also get a lot of new fans that have never seen it. We introduce the sport to them and to kids around town."

Beamesderfer said the Iowa field-hockey athletes and staff have even gone to retirement homes to try to spread the news of their sport. The assistant coach baby-sits for a family, and all three of the children asked for field-hockey sticks for Christmas.

The Iowa team heads back to school in early August. The incoming freshmen will quickly realize that they are not the only women in Iowa who know about field hockey. The team does everything as family, Beamesderfer said.

The idea of coming to a state where field hockey is unknown to many could be nerve-racking to many of the incoming athletes. 2008 Junior Olympian Bella Licciardello is a different story. She's a Hawkeye-to-be and cannot wait to be wandering the campus.

"They told me I was going to Iowa, and I thought, 'Where's Iowa?' " Licciardello said. "I'm not nervous, and I think it's cool … On the East Coast, only people in the hockey community respect the sport. I came to one of the games here, and the stands were packed. I loved that. No other school even compares."


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