Iowa field hockey looking to continue momentum into fall season

After field hockey’s first NCAA Final Four appearance since 2008, the Hawkeyes are aiming to return to the national tournament.

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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


Iowa field hockey is playing with a new fire ahead of the 2021 fall season after the Hawkeyes fell to eventual champion North Carolina in the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament.

“Everyone came back early and we trained intently,” fifth-year senior forward Maddy Murphy said. “After the UNC game, everyone had that fire brewing. So, after we had adequate rest we were ready to start back again.”

Iowa officially started the preseason at the beginning of August, but the Hawkeyes have trained throughout the entire summer.

After the spring season ended, all four seniors from the spring 2021 roster decided to return for a fifth and final season — the NCAA gave all 2020-21 student-athletes an extra year of eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The fifth-year senior lineup includes several key players — forward/midfielders Ellie Holley and Maddy Murphy, midfielder Nikki Freeman, and forward Emily Deuell.

With 11 combined fourth and fifth-year seniors on the roster, many Hawkeyes have been leaders so far in the preseason.

“We haven’t skipped a beat since last season,” head coach Lisa Cellucci said. “The leadership from all 11 of our fourth and fifth-year players have been unbelievable.”

As COVID-19 restrictions lessened over the summer and into the preseason, the Hawkeyes have grown closer to the incoming freshmen.

The 27-player roster still maintains the tight-knit feel of the spring season.

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“I love how big the team is this season,” Holley said. “There are so many special people and everyone brings something different to the team.”

The Hawkeyes have also maintained a team-first attitude with three All-Americans spearheading the effort.

Murphy was the go-to threat in the spring season, contributing eight goals for the Hawkeyes. But the Hawkeyes also shared the ball with Holley, sophomore forward Alex Wesneski, and junior midfielder Esme Gibson finding the net on multiple occasions.

The Hawkeyes’ spring defense remained rock-solid as Iowa amassed eight shutouts throughout the season. Iowa conceded just 14 goals in 18 games.

Senior defender Anthe Nijziel was the glue of the defense as she earned both Big Ten Player and Defensive Player of the Year honors. Nijziel was named a first-team All-American by the National Field Hockey Coaches Association.

“It’s a new year, so we’re not trying to look back to last year too much,” Nijziel said. “But the defensive unit wants to achieve the same goals.”

Iowa unofficially kicked off its season on Friday with two exhibition games against Northwestern at Grant Field. Cellucci saw the games as a measuring stick to start the season and give the newcomers early playing time.

“The intention is to have lots of different combinations and see everybody on the field Friday, and Saturday try and get an outcome,” Cellucci said. “This is going to set us up perfectly to be prepared for next weekend.”

Iowa opens the season in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge against Wake Forest on Aug. 27 at Grant Field in Iowa City. On Aug. 29, the Hawkeyes will take on defending NCAA champion North Carolina in the four-team event.

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