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 women’s soccer overcomes adversity to win Big Ten Tournament Championship

The Hawkeyes faced several ups and downs throughout the season but overcame it all to win their second conference title.
Grace Smith
Iowa defender Sam Cary hoists the Big Ten Trophy as Iowa soccer gets recognized during a home opener basketball game between No. 3 Iowa and Fairleigh Dickinson at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023. The Hawkeyes, defeated the Knights, 102-46.

The Iowa women’s soccer team won the 2023 Big Ten Tournament Championship after barely squeezing in as the eight-seed.

With the win, the Hawkeyes clinched automatic qualification to the NCAA Tournament. Iowa was the lowest seed to reach the Big Ten title match since 2005 and the lowest to ever win the tournament.

“Being here with this team, I mean, I don’t think anyone really thought we would [win the tournament],” fourth-year goalkeeper Macy Enneking told Big Ten Network following the title match. “We’re the only ones that really believed in us. That being said, I think we all kind of knew we were going to be here, and it’s just a great feeling.”

The Hawkeyes faced several challenges during the season but started the year off undefeated in non-conference play, giving the players a solid foundation to build on during the season.

Iowa secured quality results against tough non-conference opponents, including a 1-0 away win over Mississippi State on Aug. 31, a 1-1 away draw against Virginia on Sep.7, and a 2-1 victory over in-state rival Iowa State to kick off the 2023 Cy-Hawk series.

However, Iowa faced some troubles once the conference schedule started. The Hawkeyes were winless in Big Ten play through their first three games, with draws against Illinois and Minnesota and a loss against Wisconsin.

Fifth-year defender Samantha Cary’s leadership became crucial during some of the rough stretches throughout the season. Cary, along with co-captains Enneking and Maggie Johnston, offered stability to the team and encouraged the younger players to bounce back from adversity and finish the season strong.

The Hawkeyes responded well after they struggled, earning back-to-back wins against Purdue and Rutgers, putting the team back on track in the closing weeks of the season.

However, the Hawkeyes once again faced a dip in form,  losing back-to-back games against Nebraska and Northwestern.

Despite this setback, the team kept its cool and didn’t overreact. In fact, some of the Hawkeyes saw the struggles coming.

Throughout the season, both the players and DiIanni reiterated that they think the Big Ten is the best women’s soccer conference in the country.

DiIanni constantly preached that the “highs are never as high as you think and the lows are never as low.”  Iowa was forced to take the losses as opportunities to grow.

The Hawkeyes finished the regular season with a dominant win against Maryland, a draw against Michigan, and a loss against Michigan State.

The players thought they had missed the Big Ten Tournament after the Hawkeyes’ 3-0 loss to the Spartans.

However, once the team found out it narrowly qualified as the eight seed, Iowa had renewed motivation that was the catalyst for the team’s magical tournament run. Heading into the conference tournament, the Hawkeyes adopted a “Why not us?” mentality.

From there, Iowa won three straight matches against ranked opponents to claim the Big Ten title, including a 1-0 victory over No. 12 Wisconsin in the finals after veteran Josie Durr scored on a penalty kick in the first half.

“Act like you have been here before, right?” Durr said. “Just place it and go for it. Don’t overthink it.”

Enneking added that the Hawkeys have a great bond and their focus on strong preparation before matches has been key to the team’s success.

“We’ve been asking a little bit more from [the team] all year long,” DiIanni told Big Ten Network. “Just a little bit more investment, a little bit more attention to detail, and honestly the last three games, they’ve been rock solid, and I’m so very proud of them.”

The Hawkeyes have a healthy mix of veteran leadership and youth on the team. Older players helped establish the system DiIanni wanted to run. This helped freshmen play more prominent roles as the season went on, creating valuable depth.

Iowa plays with a high press play style, which relies on running, so having multiple players you can trust helps eliminate some injury concerns that come with a high-pressing system.

The depth the first-years provided also offered positional flexibility. Fourth-year midfielder Maggie Johnston had started all the Hawkeyes’ non-conference games as a member of the back line, but once DiIanni felt rookie defenders Eva Pattison and Millie Greer were ready to be regular starters, he pushed Johnston back to her more natural position in midfield.

This allowed Johnston’s creative passing and long-shot-taking ability to flourish and impact games – a key part in Iowa’s 1-0 upset win over No. 5 Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals.

“We’ve asked a lot of them this year,” DiIanni said of the rookies on Big Ten Network. “Every situation in different games is new to them, and they’ve been able to be resilient and adjust to it and really quite honestly be good leaders for us.”

The rookies weren’t the only additions that made a valuable impact, as transfers Kelli McGroarty and Shae Doherty also made their presence felt.

McGroarty, a veteran midfielder, scored the equalizer and assisted the game-winner in Iowa’s first-round upset against Michigan State in the conference tournament.

“[McGroarty] is just a winner, she is a goal-scorer,” DiIanni told Big Ten Network following the Hawkeyes’ win over the Nittany Lions. “She finds herself in the box, and good things happen. She is starting to figure out how to play at the Big Ten level, and we are really proud of her.”

McGroarty also came up clutch for the Hawkeyes in their semifinals against Penn State, scoring the winning goal in overtime to send Iowa to the championship.

“I feel like a lot of that [mentality] could be attributed to my dad,” McGroarty said about her clutch moments for the Hawkeyes. “If we were ever behind or losing, it wasn’t the fact that the clock was ticking down and we need a goal, it was ‘we’re going to get a goal, and we’re going to tie it up, and then we’re going to find a way to win.’”

“That mentality has always stuck with me,” McGroarty added. “And I feel like on this team a lot of people also have that feeling, and it kind of is just contagious with the whole group. When the whole team is feeling that way, it just creates special moments.”

Iowa will host an NCAA Tournament match for the first time in program history against Bucknell on Friday at 6 p.m.

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About the Contributors
Isaac Elzinga
Isaac Elzinga, Sports Reporter
Isaac Elzinga is a junior at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism and Mass communication. This is his first year working at The Daily Iowan; he also works as a producer for 1600 ESPN a sports radio station in Cedar Rapids.
Grace Smith
Grace Smith, Senior photojournalist and filmmaker
Grace Smith is a fourth-year student at the University of Iowa double majoring in Journalism and Cinematic Arts. In her four years at The Daily Iowan, she has held the roles of photo editor, managing summer editor, and visual storyteller. Outside of The Daily Iowan, Grace has held an internship at The Denver Post and pursued freelance assignments for the Cedar Rapids Gazette and the Des Moines Register.