The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Iowa field hockey head coach Lisa Cellucci instills defense as backbone of program

The Hawkeyes have held opponents to 0.89 goals per game in the last three seasons.
Sara Stumpff
Iowa’s midfielder/defender Esme Gibson dribbles the ball during a game between Iowa and the University of Massachusetts-Lowell at Grant Field in Iowa City on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023.

Iowa Field Hockey head coach Lisa Cellucci has made a name for herself in the Big Ten. 

Cellucci guided the Hawkeyes to three NCAA Elite Eight appearances, two regular season conference championships in 2019 and 2021, and an overall record of 112-64.

According to Cellucci, it all starts with defense.

Iowa second-year goalie Mia Magnotta noted Cellucci’s experience as a goalkeeper in her playing career, in which Cellucci was a three-time All-American, member of the U.S. National Team, and all-time saves leader in the cage while a Hawkeye.

“We have great coaches giving us awesome advice on just the basics of defense,” Magnotta said.

The Hawkeyes have put out a top-two defense in the Big Ten over the past three seasons under Cellucci’s watch, holding opponents to an average of 0.89 goals per game in that span. 

In 2021, Iowa’s 0.79 opponent goals per game statistics was the best in the conference — and Rutgers’ one opponent goal per game marked the next best. 

“The defense has been a staple the past 30 or 40 years of our program,” Cellucci said. “We have always been hard-nosed defensively. I think we really develop our players to just be resilient, solid tacklers, and have discipline in our footwork.”

This season, Cellucci and the Hawkeyes have shown why they are not only one of the best defenses in the conference, but the entire country. 

Iowa gave up only eight goals in 12 games on the season, ranking Iowa second-best in the nation behind Northwestern. The Hawkeyes’ seven shutouts is also second-most in the country.

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Magnotta has been one of the main factors in the Hawkeyes’ success this season. 

The Pennsylvania product established herself as one of the best goalkeepers in the country in her first year as a starter this year. 

Magnotta has managed a 0.795 save percentage, ranking her eighth in the country. Her eight goals allowed marks the fourth best in the country among all goalies. 

“I think it starts with Mia at goalkeeper,” Iowa fifth year forward Sofie Stribos said. “She is really mobile. She knows what to do and what to say to us, and that is where it starts, from the back to the front.”

Magnotta is indeed in charge of the team’s communication. While her teammates run across the turf, she is calling out where the defense needs to line up in case of a counterattack by the opponent. 

“I’m making sure we are in the right position in case we transition to defense,” Magnotta said. “We are there and ready to defend anything in front of us, just setting up our structure behind [the offense] to make sure we are set up and I am set up for the most productive play.”

From there, the Hawkeyes have an emphasis on protecting their “circle” — their moniker for their defensive side of the field they need to protect to deter scoring efforts. 

The ability to protect their half and defend opponents from entering their zone is critical to the defense’s success. 

“We really value protecting our field and protecting our circle,” Magnotta said. “Just day in and day out, that is one of our biggest focuses in practice, just protecting our circle.”

Iowa then applies the pressure to any team’s defense with the use of its forwards. 

Hawkeye forwards with the likes of first-year duo Dionne van Aalsum and Miranda Jackson use their athleticism to constantly push the opponent and win the ball. 

“I think we have some aggressive forwards,” Stribos said. “They like to really put on and win the ball from the back. That is really cool to see.”

And the Iowa offense ranks among the top of the country in assists and goals per game this year. But whether the offense is successful or not, the Hawkeyes always have a solid defense to back it up regardless. 

“Defense really does win championships, in my opinion,” Cellucci said. “We have stayed in every game that we have been in because we have solid team defense.”

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About the Contributors
Jake Olson, Sports Reporter
Email: [email protected] Jake Olson is a Sports Reporter for The Daily Iowan. In his three years with the paper, he has covered everything from rowing to basketball. He is studying journalism and mass communication with a minor in sports and rec management.
Sara Stumpff, Photojournalist
Sara is a third year UI student who transfered from Kirkwood. She is a "non traditional" student who will hopefully obtain her BFA in Photography and BA in Spanish.