Iowa field hockey is preparing to host the Big Ten field hockey tournament


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The signs have been there all season long. Banners have hung out by Grant Field. University marketing students have given away tickets to the event at each home game.

The players themselves have talked about the Big Ten field-hockey tourney since they received the schedule last year. The opportunity to host such a big event is an honor, yes, but it’s the level of awareness for the sport they hope will rise with this weekend’s events coming to Iowa City.

“It’s exciting,” sophomore midfielder Dani Hemeon said. “All of these people who live in Iowa are hearing about the Big Ten field-hockey Tournament in the newspaper and on the radio, among other things.”

The lack of prep field-hockey programs in the state leaves the team as the Hawkeye State’s lone example of the sport. This alone naturally casts the field-hockey athletes off to the side in terms of gaining attention in Iowa City.

But this weekend, the role will switch; Grant Field will play host to, arguably, the toughest field-hockey tournament outside of the NCAA event.

“When people ask what sport I play, they respond, ‘field what?’ ” junior Niki Schultheis said. “They don’t actually know. But now that six more teams are coming out, hopefully, they can bring a huge audience with them, so that a lot of people will be there to watch.”

Big Ten teams naturally travel well in many sports. Iowa field-hockey fans in particular do a good job traveling — a lot of them have to journey to the Midwest just to see a home game.

The only possible issue facing Grant Field would be the number of miles some teams would have to travel in order to attend the Big Ten Tournament — the Nittany Lions must travel around 800 miles to Grant Field. But history shows that attendance will increase because of the big event.

Penn State hosted the Big Ten tourney in 2011. The average attendance for field-hockey games in University Park, Pa., was around 373 fans per contest in the regular season. But University Park hosted more than 420 fans per contest for each round of the league tournament.

“Our staff and everybody in the Athletics Department is doing what they can [to help raise awareness of the tournament],” head coach Tracey Griesbaum said. “Our job is too be good ambassadors for the Athletics Department and to put our best product out on the field.”

Raising awareness of a sport in a state that knows next to nothing about it can be difficult sometimes. Not one athlete on Griesbaum’s current roster is from Iowa, making it even more difficult to gather more fans.

But the effect will hopefully show itself over the next few years. There may not be an immediate effect from the tournament this weekend, but if the number of fans increases from one year to the next, that’s all the head coach can hope for.

“I know the fans whom I’ve talked to throughout the years who come for the first time, they come back,” Griesbaum said. “You might not see a reward, in fan base, in Friday’s game, but you might see it next year, and keep building it. There are not too many who check it out and never come back again.”

“… We just have to get them through the door that first time.”

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