Hawkeye field hockey hosts two top-10 teams

No. 8 Iowa will attempt two upsets this weekend against No. 6 Penn State and No. 2 Maryland at Grant Field.

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Hawkeye field hockey hosts two top-10 teams

Iowa's Mya Christopher fights for control of the ball during a game against Ball State on Sunday, Sep. 2, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Cardinals 7–1.

Iowa's Mya Christopher fights for control of the ball during a game against Ball State on Sunday, Sep. 2, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Cardinals 7–1.

David Harmantas

Iowa's Mya Christopher fights for control of the ball during a game against Ball State on Sunday, Sep. 2, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Cardinals 7–1.

David Harmantas

David Harmantas

Iowa's Mya Christopher fights for control of the ball during a game against Ball State on Sunday, Sep. 2, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Cardinals 7–1.

Sarah Altemeier, Sports Reporter

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Going into a weekend playing two top-10 Big Ten teams — Penn State and Maryland — a full week’s preparation for the Iowa field-hockey team was critical.

“We are still just as focused [at practice] and bring just as much energy as we have been throughout the season,” junior captain Sophie Sunderland said. “However, something we are focusing on is capitalizing on the opportunities we are given in front of goal. I think it is important to not look too much into the rankings of Penn State and Maryland but instead focus on ourselves to make sure we play to our standard — that’s when we have great success.”

In addition to focusing on growing as a team, each athlete has been focusing on certain aspects of her game, including sophomore Mya Christopher, who scored 2 goals for the Hawkeyes last weekend.

“In preparation for this weekend, I have been making my sleep a priority,” Christopher said. “As far as practice goes, I have just been focusing on my ability to draw corners in the circle.”

RELATED: Field hockey goes 1-1 against top-25 opponents

No. 8 Iowa plays its final two regular-season matches on its home field against No. 6 Penn State and No. 2 Maryland this weekend. The Hawkeyes will take on the Nittany Lions today at 5 p.m. and face the Terrapins at noon Oct. 14.

The Hawkeyes are 25-25-1 against Penn State and haven’t beaten them since 2014. This season, the Nittany Lions rank third in the Big Ten with a 9-3 record. Penn State’s goalkeeper has the best save percentage (.815) in the conference, and five players have scored at least 5 goals.

“Penn State’s strengths are its experience — they have 12 seniors on the team, team speed, right side dominant and thrive on the counterattack; they attempt to run teams into the ground,” Iowa head coach Lisa Cellucci said. “They lead the nation in penalty corners drawn and are outstanding in their attacking third. They have an experienced defensive group and very good goalkeeping.”

Penn State is on a four-game winning streak after beating Maryland, 3-1, ending the Terrapins’ 13-game winning streak last weekend.

Despite its loss, Maryland has beaten nine top-25 opponents and has a record of 13-1. The Terrapins score an average of 3.57 goals per game and have three players who have at least 8 goals. In 16 games against Maryland, the Hawkeyes have prevailed in three of them and tied one. 

“Maryland is very similar [to Penn State] with dangerous corners, skill and speed in all three lines, and move the ball with high level of possession,” Cellucci said.

The results of games this weekend will come down to how the Hawkeyes perform — and if they can finish in the final third.

“What will be imperative for us [to win this weekend] is getting numbers to our ball side quickly so we can counteract their direct play and speed,” Cellucci said. “We have to be extremely organized defensively, and we have to find a way to sustain our attack so we can essentially wear [the opponents] down and put some goals on the board.”

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