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Stingy Hawkeye defense is a full team effort

BY DANNY PAYNE | SEPTEMBER 12, 2013 5:00 AM

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No. 8 Iowa field hockey has turned heads with its performance to start the 2013 season. A large part of the 3-1 Hawkeyes’ jump from No. 13 to No. 8 can be attributed to the team’s strong defensive play to start the season.

The metric that illustrates the Hawkeyes defensive ability most effectively is goals allowed — just look at the Big Ten rankings that category, where Iowa has allowed the fewest number of balls into the back of the net (4).

Senior backs Niki Schultheis and Karli Johansen lead the Hawkeye protection unit, along with goalkeeper Kelsey Boyce, who has started in the net all four games this season.

Head coach Tracey Griesbaum noted that the experience of her back line, specifically Schultheis and Johansen, contributes to the early success. She said the duo’s training and time spent playing at the college level has helped her squad tremendously.

However, Griesbaum said defense is a total team effort — not just relying on the backs.

“When we get caught up into the defenders defend and the attackers score, we kind of get ourselves into trouble,” the 14-year head coach said. “We all buy into winning the ball back when we don’t have it and helping each other out.”

Midfielder Dani Hemeon echoed her coach’s statement about the team assisting each other. She said that trust and confidence in her teammates’ play a very important role in the team’s ability to stop the opposition.

“We’ve been layering back,” the junior said. “In the [midfield], we have that confidence that even if we miss a ball, our defense is going to pick us up — just that confidence in our teammates.”

As in any sport, communication is key on the field. And the Hawks communicate well. Over the course of any game, it is easy to hear Schultheis, Boyce, and Company yell to teammates — whether it is defenders near them or forwards downfield — there is always some type of chatter that can be heard on the pitch.

Throughout the course of the game, Iowa may make defensive adjustments, such as pressuring the ball or making lineup changes, which makes communication even more important.

“Among all our line, [communication is] just vital,” Schultheis said. “Players are switching, we don’t want to want to run all over the place so we need to communicate to each other all the time.”

Iowa’s last line of defense is goalkeeper Boyce. The fifth-year senior is in her first year as a starter, and has impressed her coaches and teammates alike. Schultheis said Boyce is very competitive and has a lot of motivation to win games in her final season wearing the Black and Gold.

As a whole, senior Aubrey Coleman said the team’s efforts are a product of its work ethic and discipline. Specifically, each student-athlete’s individual focus on defense.

“I think everyone has put in a lot of individual work,” Coleman said. “That individual work and putting together those pieces have produced a great defense.”


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