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Editor’s note: This is 35th 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.
Iowa soccer’s first seven matches of spring 2021 — 0-6-1 and 643 minutes of play before its first goal — weren’t exactly emblematic of championship soccer.
“It was awful,” defender Sam Cary said.
But the season that started with Iowa’s historically bad start to spring 2021 ended on a historically good note — with the first Big Ten tournament title and NCAA tournament win in program history.
“It gave everybody an opportunity to understand that anybody can be successful,” head coach Dave DiIanni said.
Iowa’s fortunes changed quickly. After a 1-0 win over Maryland ended the losing skid, Iowa’s one-goal loss to then-No. 9 Penn State showed DiIanni that “something was changing.”
“We left that field thinking we should have won that game, and Penn State is a perennial powerhouse,” DiIanni said. “That game is where I thought, ‘Geez, we have a chance.’ We just needed more things to click for us.”
Iowa had no shortage of things clicking after that.
The Hawkeyes won all but one of their remaining Big Ten games, including a win over then-No. 4 Penn State in the Big Ten tournament on the Nittany Lions’ home pitch.
Cary’s ejection following her second yellow card made the Hawkeyes short a player for a third of the match, but Iowa survived Penn State’s offensive onslaught to advance.
“Our spirit was strong,” DiIanni said.
Iowa pulled off a 1-0 win against Wisconsin to win its first Big Ten championship. The one goal came from Jenny Cape, a Brookfield, Wis., native her home-state Badgers never recruited.
Sent to play against Campbell, at Campbell, the Hawkeyes then delivered their first NCAA tournament win.
“It might have been coined ‘the miracle run,’” DiIanni said.
The Hawkeyes had the lead against No. 3 UCLA in the second round as late as the 84th minute, but two late Bruin goals sunk an Iowa team that “didn’t have enough in the tank.”
“I’ve had so many people text me and call me and tell me how they watched us on ESPN come so close,” DiIanni said. “We were people’s story. They were pulling for us, and they didn’t know anything about Iowa soccer. … We were the underdog.”
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