Iowa field hockey hopes to carry over 2018’s success against top opponents

Iowa field hockey posted an impressive season in 2018, and it has a chance to start 2019 out on the right foot this weekend.


David Harmantas

Iowa midfielder Katie Birch loses control of the ball during a field hockey match against Penn on Friday, Sep. 14, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Quakers 3–0.

Pete Ruden, Pregame Editor

After an impressive season that saw Iowa field hockey vie for a Big Ten Tournament Championship and make the NCAA Tournament, the Hawkeyes are jumping right back into the thick of things in 2019.

No. 8 Iowa opens its season against No. 10 Wake Forest on Friday before taking on defending national champions and No. 1 ranked North Carolina on Sept. 1 as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

The Hawkeyes face 10 opponents that are currently ranked, so the weekend will be one of many challenges Iowa faces this season. 

“We play a much tougher schedule than we did last year,” Iowa head coach Lisa Cellucci said. “We will only play three to four teams that won’t be ranked in the top 25, so we’re going to be tested early.”

Knowing the Demon Deacons and Tar Heels are waiting tends to motivate a team during the offseason. 

Iowa started last season against the same two teams, beating Wake Forest, 2-1, and losing to North Carolina, 2-1, in overtime. Now, the Hawkeyes want a clean sweep.

“Right away, it gets our attention over the summer, so they know they have to put in the work, and they did,” Cellucci said. “You can’t start off any better way, and we know we have to be primed and ready to go. We’re also going to learn right away what we need to work on heading into the second weekend and the rest of the season.”

Iowa dropped two of its first three games against ranked opponents last season before rattling off wins over No. 23 Ohio State, No. 21 Stanford, and No. 6 Penn State in a two-week span.

The Hawkeyes then toppled the Nittany Lions and No. 7 Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament to make it to the championship where they lost to Maryland, 2-1.

The success Iowa posted against ranked teams shows it can compete among the best in the country. It has another chance to prove that this season with the ACC/Big Ten Challenge over the weekend.

“I think it’s just we want to face the best to be the best,” senior Katie Birch said. “It’s always a great challenge to take on Wake and UNC. We’re ready. We talk about it all the time that the Big Ten/ACC Challenge — it is a challenge, and we’re just really excited to attack it this year.”

With a schedule as tough as Iowa’s, a team needs returning leadership and production on the field. 

The Hawkeyes have that.

Iowa returns its top three point scorers from last season in junior Maddy Murphy, Birch, and senior Sophie Sunderland. 

Murphy scored 13 goals and racked up 7 assists last season, Birch posted 8 goals and assisted on 10 goals, and Sunderland rounded the trio out with 7 goals and 5 assists.

All three earned preseason All-Big Ten recognition. 

Now, Birch and Sunderland — along with fellow seniors Leslie Speight, Ryley Miller, and Isabella Solaroli — will be in a position to lead the rest of the team. Their experience could lead to success on the field, as well.

“We’ve been through a lot,” Sunderland said. “I feel like each year I’ve been here, we’ve gotten better.”