Iowa field hockey eyes first national championship appearance since 1992

If the Hawkeyes win against No. 1 North Carolina, they will make their first NCAA championship game appearance in almost 30 years.


Hannah Kinson

Iowa defender Anthe Nijziel sweeps the ball during the Big Ten field hockey tournament semifinals against No. 1 Michigan on Thursday, April 22, 2021 at Grant Field. The Hawkeyes were defeated by the Wolverines, 0-2. Michigan will go on to play against No. 7 Ohio State in the championships on Saturday.

Ben Palya, Sports Reporter

The NCAA Division I Field Hockey tournament is down to just four teams, and Iowa is one of the last four standing for the first since 2008.

For the Hawkeyes, it’s another box checked off their goal list.

“The Final Four and national championship are part of those goals,” junior defender Anthe Nijziel said. “We reached the Final Four, so our next goal is to win the championship, and it’d be great if we could do that.”

The Hawkeyes are making their 12th appearance in the Final Four, but it will be the first for Hawkeye head coach Lisa Cellucci since she took the reins of the team in 2015.

Iowa field hockey has recently been a mainstay in the NCAA tournament — after reaching the round of 16 in 2018, the Hawkeyes made it to the Elite Eight in the 2019 season.

In the unusual season, the Hawkeyes’ veteran leadership has been a strength.

“There are a lot of players who have been playing together for a couple of years now, so the connection and communication is one of our strengths now,” Nijziel said.

Iowa’s last trip to the NCAA Final Four tournament came in 2008, when the Hawkeyes lost out 2-1 in double overtime to eventual champion Maryland.

In this year’s tournament, No. 2 Michigan and No. 3 Louisville will compete for the other spot in the final.

With no upsets so far in the tournament, No. 1 North Carolina will be the favorite on paper going into the match with Iowa. The Tar Heels are coming off a 16-1 regular season, and dispatched Stanford in the Elite Eight, 2-0.

Iowa is not used to being the underdog this season, but the Hawkeyes are looking forward to the challenge.

“I think technically on paper we’re the underdog, but North Carolina is taking us very seriously,” Cellucci said. “They know what type of team we have and what kind of outstanding defense we play. They’re number one and we’re number four so the pressure is on them, but both teams are going to show up and be ready to go.”

The Tar Heels are back-to-back NCAA Tournament champions, taking the title home in 2018 and 2019. North Carolina has made an appearance in every Final Four since 2008.

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The Hawkeyes are looking to get revenge on the Tar Heels after North Carolina knocked the Hawkeyes out in the quarterfinals of the 2019 NCAA Tournament. After the Hawkeyes held a one-goal lead early in the game, North Carolina struck back with two goals — including one in the fourth quarter — to take the win.

“It’s really exciting to face them again, especially this time in the Final Four,” junior forward Ciara Smith said. “We’ve been wanting to play them for a while, and it feels like the cards are in our favor and it’s time to play our game no matter the circumstances.”

Iowa will square off against North Carolina on Friday at 12 p.m. in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for a spot in the national championship.

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