Back on Sep. 15, Duke handed the Hawkeye field hockey team its second loss of the young season, defeating Iowa in heartbreaking fashion after the Blue Devils’ Hannah Miller scored a sudden-death goal to beat Iowa 2-1 in double overtime at Grant Field.
Today, the sixth-ranked Hawkeyes have a second chance against the Blue Devils, who are ranked eighth nationally.
The two powers will face off in the first round of the NCAA tournament at 1:30 p.m. in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and the winner will play either Stanford or the host Tar Heels in the next round.
“The loss to Duke during the regular season is definitely a little bit of fire in our belly,” senior captain Katie Birch said. “We felt we outplayed ourselves, and we worked so hard during that game. We want to beat any ACC team, so I just think that’s another fantastic opportunity for us to attack.”
Since the September matchup, Duke has gone just 7-7 and lost in the first round of the ACC tournament to Virginia on Nov. 7. Meanwhile, the Black and Gold have a record of 12-2 and have won five-straight games, including the Big Ten Tournament title last week.
“We’re just going to take the tournament game by game,” junior Maddy Murphy said. “But deep down, we’re pretty quietly confident in our individual skills and the success of the team.”
Head coach Lisa Cellucci pointed to the transition game as a key for her team on Friday.
“We have to be much better at being able to set up our counter defense structure,” Cellucci said. “Duke is lethal on the counter-attack, and that’s how we got scored on both times [in their previous matchup]. We feel like we’ve made big improvements in that area, and that’s going to be a continued focus.”
In the first game against the Blue Devils, Iowa was held to just one goal, one of only five games this season where the Hawkeyes scored less than two times.
But improvement throughout the season has Iowa ready for a better offensive showing this time around.
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“We played them pretty early on in the season, and we’ve improved like 100 percent since then,” Murphy said. “We’re more disciplined, we’re more efficient in the circle attacking, just our leading lines and everything has grown so much since we played them last, so that’s definitely going to help us this weekend.”
Last season’s early exit from the NCAA Tournament, where Wake Forrest — another ACC team — knocked Iowa out in the first round, 3-2, is another motivating factor heading into the weekend.
“After last season, ending in the first round of the NCAA [tournament] was disappointing and I think we all felt like we could’ve gone further,” Birch said. “So just having another great opportunity to go attack it is going to be fantastic.”
The Hawkeyes’ potential road to glory in the tournament could be a revenge tour of sorts as all four teams that defeated Iowa this season made the tournament, and Iowa may see them again on their path to a championship.