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Commentary: Recapping an underachieving season

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

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The fashion in which Iowa’s field-hockey season ended Sunday was analogous to the way the 2013 campaign will be remembered — the Hawkeyes were right there but couldn’t take that extra step.

The Hawkeyes dominated the first half of the Big Ten Tournament title game, but came out and played like a completely different team after the break and lost to Michigan State, 3-2.

Iowa’s conference losses turned out the same way. During the regular season, the Hawkeyes finished 2-4 in the Big Ten, with losses to Northwestern, Michigan, Penn State, and Michigan State all coming by 1 goal. In each game, Iowa was on the doorstep but failed to get into the house.

The Hawkeyes fell in Evanston in overtime, 4-3, and to Michigan in Ann Arbor, 3-2. Those losses coupled with those at Grant Field to the Nittany Lions, 2-1, and to the Spartans, 4-3, played the largest role in preventing the Hawkeyes from gaining the respect they needed to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

But at-large bid aside, Iowa had a golden, huge, massive (if I could keep adding adjectives here, I would) chance to automatically qualify for the tournament on Sunday. But just as in the rest of their season, they underachieved.

The Hawkeyes had the pieces but failed to put them all together when it really mattered. Don’t get me wrong; Iowa looked very good at various points during the season, i.e., North Carolina along with first- and second-round matchups with Michigan and Northwestern, especially the latter.

It looked as if Iowa was finally playing up to the potential it had all year. Head coach Tracey Griesbaum’s squad faced adversity when it trailed 3-2 with 1:11 left in the contest before Dani Hemeon put in a penalty corner to send the game into overtime after the siren had blown at Buckeye Varsity Field in Columbus.

In overtime, Iowa dominated and won the game thanks to a Natalie Cafone goal in overtime.

But then Sunday happened, and now Iowa will be forced to sit at home and watch the tournament on TV while conference rivals Northwestern and Michigan State compete in the Big Dance. All Iowa can do to get better for a promising 2014 campaign is use those losses as motivation for off-season training and for next season.

The Hawks will graduate seniors Niki Schultheis, Aubrey Coleman, Karli Johansen, Kelsey Boyce, and Marike Stribos — all of whom are significant losses.

But luckily for Iowa, it will return its top three scorers from an offense that finished first in the Big Ten in goals by a mile. Iowa’s 69 goals through the Big Ten Tournament led the league, and Penn State’s 53 were second.

Of those top three scorers, Cafone will be back in 2014. Through Sunday, Cafone was ranked first in the nation in points per game with 2.84. Perhaps more impressive, Christine Grant, the former Iowa women’s athletics director and the woman who Iowa’s home field is named after, said she thinks Cafone has the chance to be the best player in Hawkeye history if she continues to play the way she has.

Despite the way 2013 ended, Iowa has a lot to look forward to in 2014. Some key contributors will be lost, but with Cafone & Company returning, Iowa has a great shot to make the jump next fall.


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