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Oct. 14, 2021 — Preview: No. 1 Iowa vs. No. 2 Michigan

Tomorrow afternoon will see perhaps the single most anticipated regular-season NCAA Division I field hockey game in many a season.

Oh, sure, there were many times in the 1990s and 2000s when your average Top Four matchup in the ACC transcended the game and became quite the happening. Take your pick: Wake Forest vs. Virginia, Duke vs. North Carolina, Maryland vs. Virginia, etc. etc. — these were matchups which were played at such a level that you might find that a scenario outside the rulebook.

I’ve seen lots of strange scenarios in ACC games over the years — a game delayed because of too many oak leaves on the pitch, a discussion about substitution for a penalty stroke specialist, the lines having to be repainted after a heaving dousing of water on the pitch, and even an umpire having to be substituted because of a lower-body injury.

But now, the Big Ten Conference has the whip hand in NCAA circles. And the top two teams in all the land meet in order to keep their undefeated records intact and get first dibs on the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Conference tournament next month.

Here’s our usual worm’s-eye preview of tomorrow afternoon’s showdown:


The obvious: A matchup of teams which made the spring Final Four a scant five months ago: Michigan lost the NCAA title match a year ago, and Iowa was a national semifinalist

The not-so-obvious: Iowa’s field hockey program was in a state of crisis in 2014 when the athletic department sought to oust head coach Tracey Greisbaum. The athletic department eventually had to pay her and her partner Jane Meyer some $6.5 million in damages for the wrongful termination. Current head coach Lisa Celucci has done a tremendous job steering her team through the controversy and the team is playing its best hockey in perhaps the last 30 years

Key players: Iowa: Ellie Holley, sr., f/m, Lokke Stribos, sr., m/d, Maddy Murphy, sr., f/m, Leah Zellner, sr., f/m, Lieve Schalk, fr., d; Michigan: Hallie O’Neill sr., d, Sarah Pyrtek jr, f/m, Kathryn Peterson sr., m, Anna Spieker, sr., g, Anouk Veen, so, m, Sofia Southam, sr., m

Iowa wins this game if: the defense, led by Schalk can hold its shape. The Hawkeyes had a tremendous outing a couple of weeks ago against Maryland, holding a high-power Terps team to two goal shots in the first 44 minutes of the contest

Michigan wins this game if: goalkeeper Anna Spieker has the game of her life. I also think that Peterson and Southam need to have something special in the attack end in order to solve the Iowa defense

The skinny: It’s amazing how the Big Ten has become the pre-eminent league for field hockey in all of Division I. Six of the top eight teams in the country are from the conference; it’s the kind of domination that used to be part and parcel of the ACC for a 20-year stretch. I think that both Michigan and Iowa will take two of the No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Division I tournament, but I would not be surprised if one of these two teams will have to play on the road in their own pod in order to achieve geographical balance in the bracket. That’s because Rutgers will likely host teams in the mid-Atlantic and Louisville will host teams down south

The unanswered question: Will the loser of this game be able to make the right adjustments in order to give payback in the Big Ten Tournament?

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