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Big Ten co-title at stake in Iowa field hockey’s final regular season weekend

BY CODY GOODWIN | OCTOBER 26, 2012 6:30 AM

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Iowa’s field hockey regular season has come down to today’s game against No. 14 Michigan.

Win and stay alive for a share of the Big Ten regular season title. Lose, and it all goes for naught.

“It has really hit us,” senior defender Geena Lesiak said. “If we don’t win [today], Sunday doesn’t mean as much.”

The No. 12 Hawkeyes understand how important these final games are. They’re vying for their first regular-season league championship since 2004, when they finished 5-1 in conference play.

Iowa (12-4, 3-1 Big Ten) is a half-game back of both No. 5 Penn State and No. 8 Northwestern. Iowa is also the only team left with two conference games, while the rest have just one.

This places more pressure on Iowa, which must win both games this weekend in order to raise its stock in the Big Ten tourney. Two wins this weekend means the Hawks will likely clinch the 2-seed in the tournament and face Indiana in the first round.

If the Hawkeyes win one and drops another, they could be the second or third seed, depending on which of this weekend’s opponents they lose to. Two losses could potentially drop them to the fourth overall seed in next weekend’s tournament. The stakes, on paper, are high.

But the Hawks aren’t worried about what the papers say. They’re more worried about facing the Wolverines, who will walk on to Grant Field today with a 3-2 conference record. Their only losses are to Northwestern, 4-1, and Penn State, 4-3.

“We know the level of play we’re going to have,” Lesiak said. “We know what we can’t afford and what we have to do in order to achieve what we want to achieve.”

What’s encouraging for Iowa is that it will be playing at home. The Hawkeyes are 5-0 in Iowa City this season, outscoring their opponents, 23-3.

The level of play for this weekend will be almost three times as good as the average of the previous five games. Iowa’s last five opponents at home have a mean Ratings Power Index  — a computerized method of ranking every single Division-I team — of 47.6. Northwestern’s RPI is 11, while Michigan’s is at 15.

The players also believe that having conference games from here on in will only heighten the level the play when they take the pitch at noon today.

“We need to take it one step at a time,” junior forward Aubrey Coleman said. “Everything we do is going to affect the outcomes, and those will affect the future.”

The Black and Gold has also made it a point this week in practice to not surrender early goals. Iowa has proven it can rally from early deficits — of their 12 wins this season, five of those have seen the Hawkeyes comeback to win.

But with Big Ten play more pivotal now than ever, head coach Tracey Griesbaum knows it’ll be more important to make sure they don’t fall behind early.

“We’re better than that,” Griesbaum said. “We should be able to have good team defense, and keep things under control.”


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