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Hawkeyes seek versatility

BY RYAN RODRIGUEZ | OCTOBER 23, 2014 5:00 AM

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A lot of Big Ten field-hockey teams would probably kill to have Iowa’s problems.

With two of the conferences’ premier scoring threats in Steph Norlander and Natalie Cafone suiting up every game for the Black and Gold, Iowa’s one-two punch up front is one of the most dominant in the country.

And while the duo’s natural skill and speed has been a threat for opposing defenses all season long, the Hawkeyes have yet to show that the threat goes beyond those two superstars.

Iowa’s success this season has largely hinged on the contributions of Cafone and Norlander, who have combined for a staggering 63 percent of Iowa’s offense. 

It’s an issue interim head coach Lisa Cellucci has been trying to fix since the start of Big Ten play. While it’s been a work in progress thus far, she is confident the return of a few key players from injury will give the Hawks the boost they need.

“We had a couple of injuries that set us back a bit as far as our lineups go,” Cellucci said. “Sara Watro is back from her broken finger, and Sophie [Plasteras] is back from her injury as well, so having those two back should be a big help for us against Penn State on Saturday.”

Watro, who has shared starting duties on the forward line with freshman Mallory Lefkowitz all year, will try to get back into things this weekend as the Black and Gold take on No. 4 Penn State.

“We’ve done some juggling of the lineup, and we’re still doing some juggling, but now that they’re more comfortable, that core is going to be the core we go with going forward,” Cellucci said.

One player who has seen her role evolve and change to meet the needs of the team this season is senior and team captain Dani Hemeon.

The owner of back-to-back 20 goals seasons in her sophomore and junior campaigns, Hemeon is on pace for less than half that this season. The Gilroy, California, native has had to shoulder some of the slack caused by injuries, switching among a numbers of different spots up and down the lineup.

Now facing her final home game as a Hawkeye on Saturday, Hemeon has welcomed her new role on a young team desperately trying to claw its way back up the big Ten standings.

“I’ve flipped around to a couple different positions on the midfield line, which is in the hopes that we can open up some different areas of the field for our offense,” Hemeon said. “I’ve tried to be versatile with it, and as long as I can do what’s asked of me, it doesn’t matter where I play.”

The Hawkeyes hope that a clean bill of health and a revamped Hemeon will give them the versatility they’ve looked for and make them a harder team to play against in the tough Big Ten.

“I definitely think teams have learned the game plan when playing Iowa and have learned how to shut us down,” Cellucci said. “It just comes down to us not playing into that and using everyone.”

A balanced team is a better team, something that even Iowa’s big guns have acknowledged.

And while they’re not there just yet, the potential is.

“It’s always a goal to be able to use everyone on the team, and I think everyone here really can be a big factor in games,” Norlander said. “We’ve started to use our midfield more and gotten people off the bench, which is what you want to see happening.”

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


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