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Editor’s note: This is 48th in a series counting down the Top 50 moments in Iowa Hawkeyes women’s athletics history in the 50 days leading up to the 50th anniversary of Title IX in June.
In Judith Davidson’s 10 years of coaching Iowa field hockey, she cried once.
Her 1985 Iowa team — the “best team that I had” — lost to Northwestern in penalty strokes and fell one game short of a second consecutive Final Four.
“I have never been more disappointed after a game than that particular game,” Davidson said in a phone call with The Gazette.
Fast forward a year, and her Hawkeyes ended the season on a much, much happier note — as national champions.
The 1986 Iowa field hockey team became the first and only Iowa women’s team to win an NCAA championship.
“You can’t put it into words,” Davidson said 36 years after the championship. “For that year, you were the best at what you did, and that feeling hasn’t gone away yet.”
The 1986 group was far from the most probable team to win a national championship.
“I had two seniors,” Davidson said. “I never thought we’d make it back to the Final Four — never in my wildest dreams.”
When did Davidson finally believe Iowa was going to be national champions? “Not until there was hardly any time left on the clock” in the championship game.
The Hawkeyes edged New Hampshire, 2-1, to make history. The game was tied at 1-1 when Iowa executed a “kind of trick corner” near the end of the game. Iowa scored, or at least thought it scored.
“The official, not paying attention, called it back,” Davidson said. “I was furious.”
Shortly after, Davidson spoke to her team near the goal area, where they wouldn’t be near the stands.
“You just won the national championship, but you have to do it again,” Davidson told her team.
The Hawkeyes did just that with a game-winning goal by Patti Wanner on a corner in the second overtime period. The celebration in Norfolk, Va., began.
Women’s athletics director Christine Grant was almost speechless.
“She came over to me and said, ‘Judith, what can I say?’” Davidson said. “I’m thinking, ‘Please say Dr. Grant you’re going to give me a raise.’”
Iowa cruised through the regular season, never losing at home despite having a young roster, and redeemed itself from 1985 with a 2-1 win over Northwestern to go to the Final Four.
“We had brought on some really top-notch freshmen,” Davidson said.
When the team and any parents in town went to dinner on the first night everyone was on campus in August, the freshmen “bonded immediately,” Davidson said.
“It was like they had known each other forever,” Davidson said. “That bonding, I think, really was a key factor in our success that year.”
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