Iowa field hockey finds offensive chemistry

After the Hawkeyes struggled to score in the spring, Iowa field hockey found its groove up front, netting 15 goals in four games this fall.


Hannah Kinson

Iowa defender Anthe Nijziel passes the ball during a field hockey match between No. 6 Iowa and No. 22 Massachusetts at Grant Field in Iowa City on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022.

Ben Palya, Sports Reporter

Throughout the Lisa Cellucci era for Iowa field hockey, the Hawkeyes’ defense has consistently been its main strength.

Anchored by reigning Big Ten Player and Defensive Player of the Year Anthe Nijziel for the past two years, Iowa’s defense collected eight shutouts in the spring 2020-21 season, conceding just .78 goals per game on the way to its first Final Four since 2008.

To start the 2021 fall season, however, Iowa’s offense has been firing on all cylinders.

The Hawkeyes have scored at least three goals in each of their four matches so far, including five against No. 11 Wake Forest and three against No. 1 North Carolina to start the season at the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

“It’s the same players, but we’ve just had to grow,” fifth-year senior midfielder Ellie Holley said. “To finally start having those connections with people putting it in the goal, it’s amazing.”

The Hawkeyes have found the back of the net 15 times throughout four games, with nine athletes posting a goal.

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Five Hawkeyes — Holley, fifth-year senior forward Maddy Murphy, senior midfielder Lokke Stribos and forward Ciara Smith, and junior midfielder Esme Gibson — have scored multiple goals. Stribos leads Iowa with three goals on the season.

Holley and Murphy lead the Hawkeyes with eight and seven points, respectively.

Iowa returned its entire roster for the fall 2021 season, as all four spring 2021 seniors — Holley, Murphy, midfielder Nikki Freeman, and forward Emily Deuell — elected to use the NCAA’s extra year of eligibility for all 2020-21 student-athletes.

After years of playing with each other, many of the Hawkeye forwards started to better understand their teammates’ flow of the game.

Murphy and Holley are in their fifth year of playing together as Hawkeyes, while Smith and Deuell have another year of contributing off the bench.

“Some of the passing combinations you don’t get unless you train with each other all the time,” Murphy said. “We’ve begun to learn where one another are going to be on the field.”

Meanwhile, the introduction of freshman forward Annika Herbine — one of seven newcomers — also provided a spark to the Hawkeye offense.

The freshman from Macungie, Pennsylvania, found her way into the starting lineup in her first collegiate season, even as the Hawkeyes returned all 11 starters from the spring.

In her first four games in the Black and Gold, Herbine has recorded a goal and an assist — her three points are tied for sixth-most on the Hawkeye roster.

After some mistakes in the Hawkeyes’ opening weekend, when the Hawkeyes allowed four goals in two games, the Iowa defense rebounded on the east coast with shutout wins over New Hampshire and Boston University.

Iowa allowed just five shots throughout both games, while netting seven combined goals.

But seeing Iowa win by relying on its offense was encouraging for Cellucci and her staff.

“These guys have been playing with each other so long together they can read each other well,”  Cellucci said. “We had great off ball movement and leading, and that’s been one of the biggest keys.”