Hawkeye field hockey preps for Big Ten/ACC Challenge


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The Iowa field-hockey team will begin the long-awaited 2014 season this weekend when it heads to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to take part in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

The Black and Gold will face off against No. 11 Wake Forrest at 1 p.m. Saturday and No. 2 North Carolina at 10:30 a.m. Aug. 31.

Facing off against a pair of ACC powerhouses should serve as a useful barometer for interim head coach Lisa Cellucci and her team. 

“A good mentality and energy to our play is going to be huge this weekend,” senior Sara Watro said. “Just doing the little things right, like making good connections and finishing when you have the chance are big.”

Making the trip to the East Coast is far from uncharted territory for the Hawks. Iowa has competed in the event every year since it started in 2002 and holds a record of 5-9 against Wake Forrest, including a 2-0 win last season.

The Hawkeyes have not beaten the North Carolina since 2008, when they knocked off the then-No. 1 Tar Heels, 3-2.

“We’ve played these guys every opening weekend for the last 12 years, and we compete very well against them every time,” Cellucci said. “They’ve obviously got a lot of speed and skill, and we’re a little on the young side, but I think if we stick to our game plan, we’ll be just fine.”

A little on the young side is a little bit of an understatement. Of the 21 athletes listed on the Iowa roster, 10 are freshmen, and five are sophomores.  

Still, Cellucci is expecting big things out of her blue chips every time they step on the field.

“I want them to focus on really just taking in as much information as they can,” she said. “That way, every game and every week they grow, so by the time we hit October, they’re fully prepared and know exactly where they’re coming from.

Of course it doesn’t hurt that the Hawks have a reigning Big Ten scoring champ in Natalie Cafone to help lead the way.

The junior was instrumental to Iowa’s success last season, potting 22 goals and adding 8 assists for 52 points. Her 2.48 points per game was also tops in the nation.

“We’re going to have to be well prepared if we want to win against either of these teams,” Cafone said. “If we stick to our game plan and play all-out, I think we’ll do well.”

On the back end, goalkeeper Alex Pecora will enter her first full season starting in net for the Hawks. The Marlton, New Jersey, native saw action twice last season, earning a win over Missouri State.

And while the team has confident in the stopper, Cellucci knows there’s no reason to make it any harder on her.

“I think the biggest thing this weekend is playing an excellent team defense,” Cellucci said. “That starts from our forwards all the way through our backfield. We really have to stick to our structure if we want to compete.”

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