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Field hockey by the numbers

BY RYAN RODRIGUEZ | SEPTEMBER 24, 2014 5:00 AM

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After the first seven games of the season, the Iowa field hockey team has come out of the gates hot, posting a 5-2 record including wins over two top-ranked teams.

The No. 9 Hawkeyes have been have been tough recently, but what’s been driving the success? A look at the numbers shows more than a few factors are at play.

Goaltending

One wouldn’t expect that sophomore goalkeeper Alex Pecora is in her first full year as a starter for the Black and Gold. The New Jersey native has been a rock in net for the Hawks, giving up just 1.68 goals a game.

It’s even more impressive when considering the amount of offensive firepower she’s faced thus far, including holding No. 11 Wake Forrest to just a single goal. Through her first seven starts, she has allowed more than 1 goal just three times, with all three of those instances coming against top-10 teams.

She earned her first shutout last week against Rutgers.

The competition is going to get harder from here on out, but so far, Pecora has done everything that’s been asked and more.

Team defense

If Iowa has an Achilles heel, it’s that the team as a unit allows an unusually high number of penalty corners. Luckily for the Hawkeyes, interim head coach Lisa Cellucci has installed a defense-first mentality that has helped thwart many of those chances, as well as numerous other scoring chances.

While Pecora has been stellar when called upon, the Hawks have also helped to limit her workload as much as possible. Her 4.57 average saves per game is fifth fewest in the Big Ten.

Allowing just 1.71 goals a game has taken the pressure off of the defense and allowed the Black and Gold to focus on what they do best: scoring goals.

Speaking of which …

Offense

Iowa boasted one of the best offenses is in the Big Ten last year, and so far this year, it doesn’t appear to have missed a beat.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt when a team returns all three of its leading scorers from 2013.

Reigning conference scoring champ Natalie Cafone has picked up right where she left off last year, coming out of the gate to lead the Big Ten in goals with 11 in just seven games, 2 of which were game winners.

The next closest is Audra Heilman of Indiana with 9.

Cafone has a tuck in every game so far this year, and when she’s not terrorizing opponents’ goalkeepers, it’s one of her forward line mates.

Sophomore Steph Norlander and senior Dani Hemeon each have 3 goals as well. All together, the trio has combined for 17 of the team’s 21 goals.

Cafone and Hemeon are also third and fifth, respectively, in shots per game.

Fifth in the conference in goals scored per game (a healthy 3.00), the Iowa offense is as potent as ever and perhaps the biggest driving force behind the success of the team so far this season.

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


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