Team-first attitude helping Iowa field hockey build off spring success

An emphasis on selflessness helped the Hawkeyes to a No. 3 national preseason ranking by the National Field Hockey Coaches Association.


Jerod Ringwald

Iowa Forward Maddy Murphy walks the ball to the corner before a penalty corner during a field hockey game between Iowa and Michigan State at Grant Field on Friday, March 26, 2021. The Hawkeyes defeated the Spartans 5-0.

Ben Palya, Sports Reporter

Coming off a trip to the NCAA Tournament Final Four last spring, Iowa field hockey is flush with talent, boasting three All-Americans and 2021 Big Ten Player and Defensive Player of the Year Anthe Nijziel.

However, it is a team-first attitude that helped the Hawkeyes ascend to a No. 3 preseason ranking by the National Field Hockey Coaches Association. The Hawkeyes ended the spring 2021 season ranked No. 4 in the NFHCA poll with a 12-6 record.

“It’s always team first. One of our core values is selflessness,” Nijziel said.

The Hawkeyes’ team selflessness in the spring 2020-21 season led them to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament against eventual champion North Carolina.

Following the season, all four of Iowa’s 2021 senior class — forward Deuell, midfielder/forwards Ellie Holley and Maddy Murphy, and midfielder Nikki Freeman — decided to use the NCAA’s free year of eligibility to return for a final season.

The NCAA gave all 2020-21 student-athletes an extra year of eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Hawkeyes have a strong backline tandem of defenders: Nijziel, sophomore Harper Dunne and senior Lokke Stribos.

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The trio held the first four opponents of the 2020-21 spring season scoreless as the Hawkeyes won by a slim, 1-0, margin. Throughout the entire 2020-21 season, the Hawkeye defense held opponents to just 14 goals in 18 games — never giving up a goal in the first quarter of the game.

Goalkeeper Grace McGuire played every minute for the Hawkeyes in 2020-21, registering 1.16 goals against average and 35 saves for a .714 save percentage.

Stribos, Nijziel, and Murphy were named to the Big Ten Preseason watch list on Aug. 25 for the second consecutive year.

Murphy will lead the Hawkeye offense once again this season. The Raina, Tasmania, native and second-team NFHCA All-American recorded team highs of eight goals, 18 assists, 37 points, and 38 shots while starting every game in 2020-21, according to Hawkeye athletics.

As Iowa returns its entire roster — including all 11 starters — this fall, minutes could be hard to come by for the field hockey freshmen. Iowa added seven freshmen to its bustling team, making for a program-high 27 players on the field hockey roster.

But after the Hawkeyes reached the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament this spring, field hockey head coach Lisa Cellucci has high hopes for Iowa.

“We finally hit our goal of playing in a Final Four last season, so the goal is to take it one step further,” Cellucci said. “Our focus is really on the everyday, because if we look too far ahead we’re going to put ourselves in a tough spot.”

No. 3 Iowa opens the season against No. 11 Wake Forest on Friday as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Hawkeyes will also take on reigning national champion No. 1 North Carolina as a Final Four rematch on Sunday.

The four-team field also includes No. 2 Michigan, the NCAA Tournament runner-up. All games will be played at Grant Field in Iowa City.

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