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Commentary: Hawks playing with fire on penalty corners

BY RYAN RODRIGUEZ | SEPTEMBER 16, 2014 5:00 AM

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The Iowa field-hockey team has all the pieces in place to build upon the impressive run last year’s squad went on at the Big Ten Tournament.

Offensive firepower? Check. The Black and Gold returned all three of their leading scorers from last season, including Big Ten points leader Natalie Cafone, who torched the conference for 22 goals and led the nation in points per game.

A solid defense? Check. Through six games, the team has allowed just 12 goals, including four games in which they only gave up 1. 

They’ve already knocked off a number of top ranked teams, including No. 6 Virginia and No. 11 Wake Forrest, and while all the numbers indicate the Hawkeyes will be a legitimate contender come November, there is one stat that has proven worrisome thus far: penalty corners.

More specifically, their opponents’ penalty corners.

In 2013, the Black and Gold gave up 135 penalty corners in 21 games, roughly 6.5 per game. 

Through six games this year, Iowa has given up 45 in six contests, an average of around 7.5 per game. That translates to almost 158 corners in 21 games, an increase of 17 percent over the previous season.

To put things in perspective, those 45 corners tie Iowa with Ohio State for the most given up in the Big Ten. Michigan State and Rutgers the only other teams that have cracked 40.

And while the Black and Gold have dealt well with the onslaught so far this year, they’re playing with fire.

If it seems simple, well, that’s because it is. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that the more quality scoring chances you give up, the harder it’s going to be to win.

And that’s essentially what a penalty corner is: a chance to get off a quality shot at the opponent’s net while the defending team scrambles to cover.

The Black and Gold have already cheated death once, giving up 13 penalty corners in one game against Virginia. That Iowa was able to hold on and win after the Cavaliers converted just one of those opportunities was nothing short of amazing.

If their current trend continues, it could come back to haunt them big time. 

In fact, it has. The Sept. 12 2-1 overtime loss to No. 8 Stanford came from Cardinal Jessica Chisholm burying a loose ball from a Stanford corner 10 minutes into overtime.

Eliminating all penalty corners is impossible, and credit where credit is due, the Black and Gold have defended most of those corners well when called upon. But cutting down would still be in the team’s best interest.

Sophomore goalkeeper Alex Pecora, who is in her first season as a full-time starter for Iowa, has the confidence of her teammates, and well she should. The Marlton, New Jersey, native has backstopped the Hawkeyes to one of their best starts in years. 

But why make it any harder on her? Why make it harder on the team?

Why put any more pressure on a relatively young group, many of who are just now beginning to find their game as full-time starters?

It’s already caught up with them once. They’d be hard-pressed to not let it happen again.

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


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