The Daily Iowan names Iowa field hockey 2020-21 Women’s Team of the Year

In an unfamiliar spring setting, the Hawkeye field hockey team made it to the NCAA Tournament Final Four.


Jeff Sigmund

Hawkeyes celebrate their first point during a field hockey game between Iowa and Michigan at Grant Field on Saturday, March 15, 2021. The Hawkeyes defeated the Wolverines, 2-1, in a shootout.

Ben Palya, Sports Reporter

After an unconventional 2020-21 spring season and a trip to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament, Iowa field hockey is The Daily Iowan’s 2020-21 Women’s Team of the Year.

Iowa field hockey headed into a 2020-21 season filled with uncertainty after the Big Ten postponed all its fall sporting events to the spring of 2021 — with the exception of football.

But with so much unpredictability, one thing was certain: the Hawkeye personnel. Headed by coach Lisa Cellucci, Iowa returned key players for the 2020-21 season.

In the 2019-20 season, the Hawkeyes made a run to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament just a year after making an appearance in the Sweet 16 in 2018-19.

With plenty of returnees including junior Anthe Nijziel, and seniors Maddy Murphy, Ellie Holley, and Lokke Stribos in the 2020-21 season, the team was one of the national favorites heading into spring — the Hawkeyes garnered a No. 3 ranking by the National Field Hockey Coaches Association in the first week of the season.

Iowa held stout defense in the first few weeks of the season, winning its first four games by a 1-0 score.

The Hawkeyes found their first loss against Michigan, 1-0, at Grant Field in Iowa City. But Iowa bounced back to win the second game of the doubleheader weekend, 2-1, against the Big Ten foe.

After the loss to Michigan, the Hawkeyes went on a five-game win streak — including sweeps over Ohio State and Michigan State — to vault up to a No. 2 ranking by the NFHCA.

The Hawkeyes hit a snag when they dropped three of four to finish the regular season, including a season-ending sweep by Northwestern. The losses dropped Iowa to fifth in the Big Ten standings, a lower spot than its national ranking — which sat at No. 4 to end the season.

Iowa hosted the 2021 Field Hockey Big Ten Tournament at Grant Field in Iowa City.

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The Hawkeyes defeated Maryland, 3-0,  in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament, but couldn’t make a dent against top-seeded Michigan in the semifinals.

Without the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, the Hawkeyes had to wait and see if they secured a spot in the national tournament field. Ultimately, Iowa earned the fourth overall seed at the Division I NCAA Field Hockey Tournament.

In the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Hawkeyes got their revenge against Northwestern. Three Hawkeyes — Stribos, Murphy, and junior Ciara Smith — powered Iowa to a 3-1 win and its first Final Four appearance since 2008.

The Hawkeyes’ run ended just short of the NCAA championship game as they fell to top-seeded North Carolina, 3-0.

Junior Anthe Nijziel led the Hawkeyes throughout the season, anchoring a Hawkeye defense that conceded just 13 goals in 18 games.

At the conclusion of the regular season, Nijziel was named the Big Ten Player and Defensive Player of the Year, becoming the first in Iowa program history to earn both honors in one season. Nijziel also garnered first-team All-America honors by the NFHCA.

In 2020-21, Murphy was the team’s top goalscorer for the second straight season, notching eight goals and two assists. She was named a second-team All-American by the NFHCA.

Holley also earned All-America honors, making the NFHCA third team after scoring three goals and assisting seven.

For the second straight season, Cellucci earned 2020-21 Big Ten Coach of the Year honors, leading the Hawkeye team to a 13-15 finish and an appearance in the Final Four.

For an accomplished season in an unconventional year, Iowa field hockey is the 2020-21 Women’s Team of the Year.

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