Commentary: No. 13 Hawkeyes off to impressive start


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Four games are a small sample size — a very small one, at that. But if four games is any indication of the rest of the season, Iowa field-hockey fans have a whole lot to be excited about.

The No. 13 ranked Hawkeyes are coming off the heels of a 1-1 performance at the Big Ten/ACC Challenge held over the weekend at Grant Field. On Sept. 7, the squad shut out No. 18 Wake Forest, 2-0, but then fell to North Carolina, the nation’s top team, 3-1. Even in the loss, the Hawkeyes played extremely well in the second half, keeping pressure on the Tar Heels and creating a variety of scoring chances.

The defense, led by senior Niki Schultheis along with redshirt senior goalkeeper Kelsey Boyce, has only let four balls into the back of the net so far in this young 2013 campaign. Those 4 goals are the fewest allowed in the Big Ten — and one of them came on a penalty corner in field hockey’s equivalent of garbage time against North Carolina.

Compared with last year’s squad, which started out 2-2 and lost to North Carolina, 5-0, in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, the 2013 squad has allowed 6 fewer scores than the team a year ago.

Head coach Tracey Griesbaum attributes some of that defensive success to the speed of her forwards and midfielders.

“We’re sometimes able to hold an extra defender back and let those guys go and do their thing,” the head coach of 14 years said.

So far, the Hawkeye forwards have done their thing. Young guns sophomore Natalie Cafone and freshman Stephanie Norlander have used their speed and strong stick skills to score a team-leading 2 goals —tied for the top spot with senior back Karli Johansen.

“It’s really fun [playing with Cafone],” Norlander said. “I think we both use our speed as our main attack, so it’s really fun that we can both get out there and score some goals.”

As it is evident in Johansen’s case, Iowa’s scoring threat doesn’t stop with its youth, the team returns junior Dani Hemeon, who has a goal and assist this season and also led the team last season with 24 points.

Last season, the Hawkeyes finished with a final record of 14-7 and were bounced from the first round of the NCAA Tournament by Virginia. This season, another tournament berth is a goal the Hawkeyes set for themselves.

“We want to make it to the NCAA Tournament again, a Big Ten title of some sort would be great as well,” the North Vancouver, B.C. resident said on the team’s media day on Aug. 19.

If this impressive start is indicative of the rest of the campaign, Johansen and the rest of the team’s goals could very well be fulfilled — at a bare minimum, the Hawkeyes could dance into their third-straight tournament.

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