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Field Hawks head East for stiff competition

BY CODY GOODWIN | AUGUST 24, 2012 6:30 AM

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The much-anticipated field hockey season will finally be underway for the Hawkeyes.

No. 12 Iowa will be in Winston-Salem, N.C., this weekend for its 11th-straight Big Ten/ACC field-hockey challenge. The competition Iowa will face are No. 13 Wake Forest and second-ranked North Carolina, which finished last season as the NCAA runner up.

These are the same two teams Iowa faced in last season’s battle of the conferences. Iowa was able to defeat the Demon Deacons, 3-2, in Ann Arbor, Mich. The Hawkeyes lost to the Tar Heels in the same weekend, 2-0.

Head coach Tracey Griesbaum has instilled a careful mindset in her players for this year’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge, because there is no easy game to play. She said technically sound play will be a factor against both East Coast powers.

“We have to bring out our best against both teams,” Griesbaum said. “We will probably mix up our lineups between games and test our versatility a bit.”

Iowa’s depth could be an advantage against the speed of the Tar Heels. Griesbaum said two veterans, Jessica Barnett and Sarah Drake, could mesh from their back and forward positions to create plays at the midfield level.

Stellar play from the two seniors will be vital against the Tar Heels, who are three-time NCAA finalists, including taking the title in 2009. The returning ACC Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year in Kelsey Kolojejchick and Caitlin Van Sickle lead North Carolina. UNC also finished 23-2 a year ago and defeated national champion Maryland during ACC play.

Iowa has a recent history in facing teams that are ranked No. 2 in the country. Since 2007, Griesbaum’s squad has taken the pitch against three teams with that ranking — this weekend being the fourth time — yielding a 1-2 record.

Their only win came in 2007, when the Hawkeyes downed Wake Forest in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

“It’s going to be tough, but I know that we’re ready for it,” Barnett said. “We’ve been working hard; now we just have to show what we’ve got this weekend.”

Wake Forest enters this weekend ranked fifth of the six ACC teams, but all six ACC teams finished with a record above .500 last season, and half the conference was in the Elite Eight of the 2011 NCAA tournament.

The historical odds are also against the Hawkeyes — the inter-conference duel hasn’t been kind since the beginning. Iowa boasts a 4-16 record in the annual challenge.

The numbers don’t get any prettier with this year’s matchups. Iowa is 3-9 all-time against Wake Forest and 3-21 all-time against North Carolina.

But the demeanor of the Black and Gold remains high. It’s a new season, meaning anything can happen and nothing is for certain.

Goalkeeper Kathleen McGraw is especially excited to see what this year’s team has in store. She said the preseason has been a tough one, and the Hawks are ready to take the pitch.

“It won’t be easy, that’s for sure,” she said. “We’ll just have to be ready for it. I think we will be.”


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