Hawkeye field hockey upsets another highly ranked team


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Iowa field hockey is starting to show its true colors.

Despite a shaky effort at times, the Hawkeyes proved once again that they can hang with anyone, holding on to defeat the No. 6 Virginia Cavaliers, 4-3, on Thursday at Grant Field.

“We feel great, and we’ve already accomplished a lot, but that said, we think we still have a lot more to prove,” goaltender Alex Pecora said.

Playing upset is beginning to become somewhat of a hobby for the Black and Gold this season; last week, the Hawks knocked off another ACC powerhouse in Wake Forest, 4-1.

And while interim coach Lisa Cellucci’s squad still has some kinks to work out, she’s pleased with what her team has shown thus far.

“The thing is, we didn’t actually play that well for a full 70 minutes,” Cellucci said. “That’s what’s really encouraging. I think once we put it all together for a full game, we’ll be a force to be reckoned with.”

The Thursday contest was a high-speed, fast-paced affair, about what fans would have expected from two teams with such high pedigrees.

And while both teams had their chances, Cellucci’s squad was able to capitalize in the end, holding on for the win.

The Hawks were tested early, defending a pair of Virginia attacks — one on a penalty corner — just two minutes into the game.

But despite the early pressure from the Cavaliers, the Black and Gold struck first. Following a period of sustained pressure, senior Dani Hemeon was finally able to cash in, knocking home a nine-yard strike to put the Hawks up 1-0.

“It’s always huge to score the first goal,” junior Natalie Cafone said. “It’s a confidence boost, but even after we get one, we still have to play like it’s a tie game so we can keep producing.”

Virginia struck back just three minutes later when a shot from Virginia forward Caleigh Foust found the back of the net to knot things at 1.

Iowa added two more from Cafone before the half, going up 3-1 after 35 minutes, including a highlight-reel goal from Cafone.

Following an initial attempt from forward Stephanie Norlander, Cafone was alone in front of the net, knocking Norlander’s shot out of mid air and past Virginia goalkeeper Rebecca Holden.

She tallied one more goal in the second period to earn her first hat trick off the season.

“She’s just the best kind of player to have on your team,” Cellucci said. “It’s a relief, and at the same time, she’s awesome to have on your side. Her competitiveness along with her speed and skill, and it’s a lethal combination.”

But despite Cafone’s offensive showcase, goaltender Pecora stole the show for Iowa, turning aside a barrage of shots including more than a dozen penalty corners.

“Luckily, penalty corners are something we simulate a lot in practice, so I was ready for them,” Pecora said. “I knew how well we defend them, so there was never any doubt.”

Pecora turned in an all-star performance, much to the appreciation of her teammates.

“She’s one of the most talented goaltenders I’ve ever played with,” Cafone said. “I played against her in high school and thought the same thing then, so I’m glad she’s on our side this time.”

Follow @ryanarod on Twitter for news, updates, and analysis about the Iowa field hockey team.

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