Summer not an off-season for field hockey

BY DANNY PAYNE | JUNE 25, 2014 5:00 AM

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The summertime is often referred to as a dead period in sports, especially at the college level. This is true, to an extent. Just because there are no Iowa athletes competing at the NCAA level, that doesn’t mean Hawkeyes are sitting at home on the couch. Quite the opposite, really.

Three Iowa field-hockey players — Dani Hemeon, Natalie Cafone, and Chandler Ackers — took part in the USA Field Hockey National Championship last week in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The trip played on separate teams in the tournament. Cafone played with Team Freedom, which took second place, Hemeon played with Team White, and Ackers with Team Courage. White defeated Courage to take seventh place in the tournament.

The event isn’t so much based on team results as it is on evaluating individual performance. It serves as a tryout for the U.S. National team, which competes against the rest of the world in international tournaments.

“This was definitely the highest level I’ve played at in the USA stuff so far,” Ackers said. “I enjoyed it a lot; it was a lot of fun, I learned a lot … Playing with a lot of different girls from different colleges was awesome.”

As the Iowa sophomore said, the competition was so stiff and somewhat unfamiliar that the three Hawkeyes had to quickly learn to play with teammates they’re not used to.

There were other members of the Big Ten spread throughout the tournament, and Cafone played on a team with Indiana goalkeeper Maggie Olson and Michigan State forward Allie Ahern.

Despite the competition with and against league foes, Cafone echoed her teammate, noting that they put their college alliances to the side when tournament time came around.

“We tend to all become really good friends even though we’re all in the Big Ten and not on the same team; we have a really good friendships off the field,” Cafone said. “When we play against each other, it’s actually fun — it’s not weird at all. Even though in season, it’s really competitive. We don’t really talk about the in-season games; it just goes away.”

Playing against some of the country’s best provides invaluable experience. Even though Hemeon said she didn’t think her level of play warranted being selected to the national team, the athletes she played against helped her show where she needs to improve.

“It’s always good, because in these tournaments, you get to play with people that are at such a high level,” Hemeon said. “My play increased as the tournament went on, and I got better, so that’s always a plus.”

The senior-to-be said the speed of the game was one of the main things. Because she plays in the midfield and has to distribute the ball, that aspect of the game is more important. She said she needs to keep her head up and eliminate looking down at the ball.

“It’s good experience, playing with people that are really good around you only helps you get better,” Cafone said. “It’s a really fun experience — it’s a privilege to play with high-level athletes like the ones at the tournament.”

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