Iowa field hockey begins push for second-straight Big Ten Championship

This week at Grant Field in Iowa City, the Hawkeyes will attempt to defend their 2019 Big Ten Tournament title.


Hannah Kinson

Iowa players celebrate forward Maddy Murphy’s score during the fourth quarter of a field hockey game against Maryland on Sunday, April 4, 2021 at Grant Field. The Hawkeyes defeated the Terrapins, 3-0. (Hannah Kinson/The Daily Iowan)

Ben Palya, Sports Reporter

Last season, Iowa field hockey won its first Big Ten Tournament title since 2008. This week, the Hawkeyes are gunning for their second-straight conference crown and an automatic berth in the NCAA Division I Women’s Field Hockey Championships. The last team to win back-to-back Big Ten championships was Penn State in 2011 and 2012.

Most of the players that helped Iowa win last season’s Big Ten title are returning for the Hawkeyes’ 2020-21 postseason run.

“They definitely have the confidence that we can [win the Big Ten Tournament], and I think having that experience bodes well for us,” Hawkeye head coach Lisa Cellucci said.

After opening-round matches are completed Tuesday, Iowa will hit the pitch on Wednesday for its first tournament contest against a familiar Maryland squad.

The Hawkeyes and Terrapins have already met on two occasions this season, splitting the regular season series at one each. Now, the two teams will get a postseason rubber match to decide which squad is superior.

This season, Big Ten teams have played weekend doubleheaders against all their foes. Game one of the doubleheaders counted toward league standings, and game two was accounted for in the national rankings, but not the conference standings.

The Hawkeyes lost their first game of the season against the Terrapins, 1-0, after conceding a late-match goal off a penalty corner. In its second game with Maryland, Iowa bounced back in commanding fashion, earning a 3-0 victory.

Senior forward Maddy Murphy played a pivotal role in Iowa’s 3-0 win over Maryland, scoring twice in the contest.

“Maryland is an extremely talented team, but we work really well when we work as a team,” Murphy said. “If we can play a great team game, I think we’re unstoppable, especially against teams like Maryland.”

RELATED: Grant Field, Iowa City ready to host Big Ten Tournament

The Hawkeyes enter the Big Ten Tournament fresh off two-straight losses to Northwestern. Iowa was ranked No. 2 in the country prior to its matchup with then-No. 3 Northwestern. Since then, the Hawkeyes have dropped to No. 4 in the National Field Hockey Coaches Association poll, followed by Northwestern at No. 5.

While the Hawkeyes certainly enter the Big Ten Tournament with bitter tastes in their mouths, they understand that they have enough talent to win their second-straight league championship.

“This team has the talent to be clinical, but we have to be able to consistently take care of those opportunities,” Cellucci said.

In games where Iowa scores at least one goal, the Hawkeyes are 9-1.

Oftentimes, the Hawkeyes only need one goal to outscore their opponents, as junior Anthe Nijziel anchors the Iowa defense. Nijziel was named both Big Ten Player of the Year and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year on Monday. Excluding Nijziel, no Hawkeye has ever earned both Big Ten Player and Defensive Player of the Year honors in the same season.

The last Hawkeye to win Big Ten Player of the Year was Kristy Gleason in 1993.

The Hawkeyes are hosting this year’s Big Ten Tournament at Grant Field in Iowa City.In compliance with current University of Iowa Athletics policy, fans will be allowed to attend this year’s Big Ten Tournament at 50-percent capacity. Wednesday’s Iowa-Maryland Big Ten quarterfinal match will begin at noon and air live on the Big Ten Network.