Iowa field hockey’s successful run likely to continue next season

The Hawkeyes have made the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons, and there’s reason to believe they can do it again this upcoming season.

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Hannah Kinson

Iowa forward Maddy Murphy steals the ball during a field hockey game between Iowa and Duke at Grant Field on Sunday, September 15, 2019. The Hawkeyes were defeated by the Blue Devils, 2-1 after two overtime periods.

Isaac Goffin, Sports Reporter


Iowa has a successful field hockey tradition, and in recent years the Hawkeyes have again become one of the best programs in the country.

Though the Hawkeye field hockey team has historically been respectable, in the last couple seasons the program made a mark nationally.

Head coach Lisa Cellucci and her squad failed to make the NCAA Tournament in her first four seasons as head coach. Things changed for the better in the 2018 season.

In its first game, No. 20 Iowa defeated No. 14 Wake Forest in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, which would give the program a nice boost to start the season that it never seemed to relinquish. After losing its next game to No. 2 North Carolina, Iowa went on a six-game winning streak where it outscored opponents 22-1.

A 2-0 loss to No. 14 Northwestern was tough, yet Iowa recovered and went on a three-game winning streak, including wins over two top-25 opponents. Iowa then finished the regular season on a 2-3 stretch that included a win over No. 6 Penn State.

Evanston, Illinois, was the site of the semifinals and championship of the Big Ten Tournament, and the Hawkeyes made some waves by the lakeshore, making Big Ten finals after defeating two top-seven teams.

Iowa ended up losing to No. 2 Maryland, 2-1, but its 14-6 overall record got the program into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012. Unfortunately the Hawkeyes, No. 12 Wake Forest got the best of them in the rematch, 3-2.

Junior midfielder and defender Katie Birch had a great season, with her 10 assists being fourth most in the Big Ten and her 26 points being second on the team. Maddy Murphy, a sophomore forward, had the team high in points with 33 and goals with 13.

The 2019 season picked up right where the 2018 season had left off, with Iowa defeating No. 10 Wake Forest in its first game. Iowa lost to No. 1 North Carolina in its next time out, and then went on a three-game winning streak before losing to No. 2 Duke.

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For the rest of the regular season, Iowa would lose two games, only one in conference play. Iowa defeated six ranked opponents in the regular season, with the highest being at No. 8 Michigan on Nov. 3.

Happy Valley was the site of the Big Ten Tournament, and Iowa left happy. In overtime of the championship game, Murphy scored the game-winning goal, making it the first time that Iowa won the Big Ten regular season and championship titles in the same season.

In the NCAA Tournament, Iowa once again faced Duke, this time with better results. Iowa won, 3-2, to advance to the Elite Eight for the seventh time in program history. North Carolina was Iowa’s opponent, and like the last time, Iowa lost, 2-1. Iowa finished the season ranked No. 9 in the RPI.

After the season, Birch was named to the National Field Hockey Coaches Association (NFHCA) All-American First Team after she amassed 24 points, while Murphy was named to the second team after totaling 37 points. This was Birch’s third career All-American honor and Murphy’s second.

Next season, the Hawkeyes will be without Birch, so there might be an irreplaceable gap in her spot. The prominent goalkeeper from the past two seasons, Leslie Speight, has also graduated, but she has a probable replacement in junior Grace McGuire.

Junior forward Leah Zellner should be a prominent player in the next year. She had 16 points last season and was named to the USA Field Hockey U21 National Team. And of course, Murphy will be back, suggesting another great season for the program.

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