Having played its last game nearly two weeks ago, Maryland field hockey returns to action this weekend to face Iowa.
The Terps have a 5-3 record this season and are on a three-game winning streak consisting of a road win at Penn State and two home victories against Indiana.
“We are so excited to get on the road,” head coach Missy Meharg said. “For many of us, it’s the first time we’ve flown since COVID started. We’ve spent a couple days together training and getting everything organized to get on the road and go out and play Iowa.”
In this week’s installment of the NFHCA Coaches Poll, the Terps checked in at No. 13, falling one spot despite not playing a game last week. Maryland is one of six Big Ten teams ranked, including this week’s opponent, No. 2 Iowa.
Maryland has matches on both Friday and Sunday against the Hawkeyes, who have an impressive 9-1 mark on the season. The last time these two teams met, the Terps walked away with a 3-0 victory on Oct. 11, 2019, in College Park.
Friday’s match, at 5 p.m. on Big Ten Network, will be the first national television contest for Maryland this season. Sunday’s match will be at 12:30 p.m. on BTN Plus.
Now, let’s take a deep look at the second-ranked team in the nation.
Iowa Hawkeyes (9-1)
2019 record: 17-5 (7-1 Big Ten)
Head coach Lisa Cellucci is in her seventh season leading the Iowa field hockey program, and her 21st overall as a part of it. A former three-time All-American goalkeeper as a Hawkeye, Cellucci is the school’s all-time saves leader. Cellucci has a 79-48 career record as a head coach. She has led a remarkable turnaround in the program, going from 39-35 in her first four years to 40-13 in her last three, including this season.
“I applaud Iowa,” Meharg said. “They’re from a region of the country that doesn’t have high school or club hockey, so what Lisa Cellucci and what the administration has afforded the University of Iowa and the women who play there is phenomenal.”
The Hawkeyes have a 9-1 record, including sweeps over Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan State, with its lone loss coming at Michigan, a two-game series the teams split. Cellucci has a very experienced roster, as seven of the nine players who have started all 10 games this season are at least juniors.
Players to know
Maddy Murphy, senior forward, No. 26 — The Tasmania native has started every game this season and leads the team in several statistical categories, including goals (5), points (10) and shots (16). Each of the past two seasons, Murphy has received the nod as an NFHCA Second Team All-American and First Team All-Big Ten selection. Murphy is a star, and one of the best players Maryland will face this season.
Anthe Nizjiel, junior defender, No. 6 — Dating back to her freshman campaign in 2018, Nizjiel has started every game of her career. While she only has one goal this season, she ranks second on the team with three assists. Also, Nizjiel is tied for the most minutes played on the team. A Second Team All-Big Ten and NFHCA First Team All-West Regional selection in 2019, the Netherlands product is an important piece to this Hawkeyes team.
Grace McGuire, senior goalkeeper, No. 62 — Finally getting her chance to be a full-time starter in the cage as a senior, McGuire has not let the Hawkeyes down. The keeper leads the Big Ten with a 0.387 goals-against average mark and six shutouts. Her six shutouts are extremely impressive, as the next goalie behind her in the Big Ten only has three. McGuire has dazzled for the Hawkeyes this season and looks to continue her strong play against the Terps.
Defense. Statistically, the Hawkeyes have had the best defense in the Big Ten all season long. In 10 games, Iowa has given up only four goals, tied with Rutgers for the least amount of goals allowed in the conference. The incredible part about this is that Rutgers has played two fewer games, and the Hawkeyes are still leading the conference. Iowa’s opponents’ average of only 0.4 goals per game also ranks top in the Big Ten. Iowa’s defense will be a tall task for Maryland to conquer.
Goal scoring. It may be a little crazy to think that a 9-1 team has problems scoring goals, but a deeper dive opens eyes a little bit. Four of the Hawkeyes’ wins have been 1-0 results. In four of the other wins, they only scored two goals, with the outlier being a 5-0 win against lowly 1-8 Michigan State. The Hawkeyes’ 1.6 goals per match only rank fifth in the conference. In its five games against teams over .500, the Hawkeyes have only averaged one goal a game. It will be interesting to see if that trend continues against the 5-3 Terps.
Three things to watch
1. How will Maryland look after not playing last weekend? With the way the Big Ten schedule shaped out this season, each team played two games per weekend, usually against the same opponent. There was a “bye” weekend incorporated into each teams’ schedule, as well. Iowa will be the toughest opponent Maryland has faced since Northwestern on March 7 and could be the toughest team it plays all season. Having around 11 days to prepare for Iowa, the long break could help the Terps.
“It’s actually been really nice to have this kind of break so we can just really focus on getting outcomes and getting our skills on,” junior midfielder/forward Taylor Mason said. “We’ve been working a lot on footwork and individual defense, so I’m really excited because we’ve been taking these points of emphasis and bringing them to training.”
2. Can the Terps remain undefeated against the Hawkeyes? Dating back to November 1999, Maryland is a whopping 10-0 against Iowa all-time. The games have been closer than other opponents Maryland has never lost to — including Indiana and Michigan State — with the average margin of victory coming at 1.6 goals. This series has a ton of history, though, including six ranked matchups, one NCAA first round matchup and two national semifinal matches. The story may be different this time, as Iowa is the higher-ranked team for the first time in series history.
“Yes, we’ve had some great matches with them,” Meharg said. “I think back to the semifinal game in 1999, in Boston, a long time ago, but I think back to that overtime game and just think about the resiliency of Iowa, their discipline, they always have a defense that is built around a battle. Their goaltending is always so strong.”
3. Will Maryland carry over its strong play on penalty corners from two weeks ago? The last time the Terps took the field, they excelled in penalty corners. Four of Maryland’s eight goals against Indiana came from corner opportunities. The unit mainly consisting of Bibi Donraadt, Maura Verleg and Riley Donnelly has developed great chemistry.
“I played with Riley my whole life,” Mason said about Donnelly. “I mean, she is a defender, but she’s also very versatile... I’m not surprised at all.”
Mason also comes in as a penalty corner specialist, using a hit that can be extremely dangerous to opposing teams. Donnelly put in two goals off penalty corners in the last match to extend her team-leading goal count to five.
“From a really positive look from our attack penalty corner, we have options,” Meharg added. “That way it’s really hard for teams to play defense against us, whereas I think it was more easy to play defensive penalty corners against Maryland in the past few years.”