No. 3 Iowa field hockey ready for Big Ten/ACC Challenge

The Hawkeyes will take on No. 11 Wake Forest and No. 1 North Carolina at Grant Field in Iowa City this weekend.


Hannah Kinson

Iowa midfielder Harper Dunne runs up the field with the ball during the fourth quarter of the Big Ten field hockey tournament quarterfinals against No. 4 Maryland on Wednesday, April 21, 2021 at Grant Field. The Hawkeyes defeated the Terrapins, 3-0. No. 5 Iowa will go on to play No. 1 Michigan tomorrow afternoon.

Ben Palya, Sports Reporter

Last year, the Iowa field hockey team played just one game against a nonconference opponent. The Big Ten Conference pushed all its fall sports seasons to the spring because of COVID-19 and mandated that its teams only play conference opponents during the regular season.

Now, the Hawkeyes will play two quality nonconference opponents in a single weekend: No. 11 Wake Forest and No. 1 North Carolina.

Iowa is hosting part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge this weekend at Grant Field in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes will take on the Deacon Demons at 3:30 p.m. Friday and then face the Tar Heels at 11:00 a.m. Sunday.

“Every year we’ve traveled somewhere else, so it’s great that we are able to host it here and have three of the final four teams here,” Hawkeye senior defender Anthe Nijziel said. 

Iowa’s lone nonconference game last season came against North Carolina in the Final Four of the NCAA Division I Field Hockey Championships. The Hawkeyes lost the May 7 match to the Tar Heels, 3-0.

Even with a rematch against the top-ranked Tar Heels right around the corner, the Hawkeyes aren’t overlooking the challenge Wake Forest will provide them.

“They’re unbelievable,” Hawkeye head coach Lisa Cellucci said. “Coming in ranked at No. 11 doesn’t reflect how impressive they are. Every time we’ve played Wake Forest in this opening weekend, it’s been an overtime or one-score game, so our only focus is Wake Forest right now.”

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

Unlike the Hawkeyes, the Demon Deacons pushed the Tar Heels to the brink once in 2020-21 — losing by a narrow 2-1 margin in double overtime in their regular season finale April 23.

Iowa hasn’t played Wake Forest since 2019, when the Hawkeyes downed the Demon Deacons, 2-1, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. 

Despite the challenges associated with playing two teams ranked in the National Field Hockey Coaches Association Poll to start the season, the Hawkeyes are excited to get their 2021-22 campaign underway.

“I’d say it’s an advantage, we always start our season like that and I’m looking forward to it,” senior defender Lokke Stribos said. 

The Hawkeyes will enter Friday’s game against the Demon Deacons with some preseason experience under their belts.

Last weekend, Iowa played two exhibition games against Northwestern — the first of which was more scrimmage-like, while the second was played at game speed. No scores or statistics were released for either of the Hawkeyes’ exhibition games against the Wildcats.

“They’re all really good teams, so it was good to practice against Northwestern, so we could practice against Northwestern and be prepared for this weekend,” Nijziel said. 

Michigan will also be participating in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge festivities in Iowa City this weekend. The Wolverines will take on the Tar Heels Friday at 2 p.m. at Grant Field in what will amount to be a rematch of last year’s NCAA Championship game. In last year’s NCAA title match, Michigan fell to North Carolina, 2-0, in overtime.

Both of the Hawkeyes’ games this weekend will stream live on BTN+.

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