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IOWA CITY — Iowa head soccer coach Dave Dilanni will tell you that from the outside, this looked like a broken program.
Iowa lost 12 seniors from its 2019 team, the squad which led the Hawkeyes to their second-ever NCAA Tournament appearance, with its first being in 2013.
But after not scoring a goal in the first six games, and losing the game in which the team scored its first goal against Rutgers on March 18, Dilanni still saw what he called “incremental” progress.
“We saw it, but no one else saw it,” Dilanni said. “It just wasn’t resulting in goals or wins. The Rutgers game really was the change in the season, both in performance and in goals.”
He wasn’t surprised by the losses, since his team lacked the leadership it had the year before, it took awhile to establish an identity.
And the freshmen stood at the helm of it.
One of the key changes Dilanni made was putting freshman Macy Enneking in goal for the second half of the game against Rutgers. She started the following game against Maryland, where Iowa captured its first win, 1-0.
“A lot of it was let's just see how she performs under pressure, and does it give the team a little bit of a jolt of positivity and excitement?” Dilanni said. “Sometimes you change your quarterback in football teams or a goalkeeper in hockey, and you see a little bit of a momentum change. Performance changes, body language changes, so that was one of the reasons why Macy got an opportunity.”
Enneking stayed steady in goal for the remainder of the Rutgers game and earned the starting spot for the remainder of the regular season and Big Ten tournament.
“My coach came up to me and said, ’You’ve done this a million times before. This is just another game. You know how to play soccer,”’ Enneking said. “I think that really helped me settle my nerves.”
Enneking went on to earn the Big Ten Tournament’s most outstanding defensive player after the Hawkeyes’ three-straight shutout victories against Minnesota, Penn State and Wisconsin.
Freshman Meike Ingles also emerged as a key player late in the season, aiding as a top scorer in the tournament. After 20 shots on goal and nothing to show for it in the regular season, she scored three goals on 13 shots in the Big Ten Tournament.
Against Illinois, Ingles took a pass off junior Samantha Tawharu on the right corner of the box and wound up a few steps before slamming it to the top of the net. The overtime goal sealed the team’s first victory over Illinois.
Tawharu and Ingles both scored in the 2-0 victory over Minnesota, then Ingles added the game-winning goal in the Hawkeyes’ 1-0 victory over No. 1-seeded Penn State (No. 4 in the NCAA). She assisted junior Jenny Cape en route to the 1-0 championship win against Wisconsin.
“That first game of the season, I felt like I was literally having a heart attack,” Ingles said. “We got a couple of games in and everything felt right. What got me going was basically my first goal against Illinois, that fueled me.”
Ingles was named to Top Drawer Soccer’s National Team of the Week and was the Big Ten Tournament’s most outstanding offensive player.
Iowa will have a chance to make history again if it defeats Campbell at 2 p.m. Tuesday. It would be the first NCAA Tournament win in program history. The game will be streamed online on ESPN3.
Campbell took down No. 24 High Point 4-3 to clinch the Big South, making this its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2004. The winner will take on No. 3 UCLA, which earned a first-round bye.
The Hawkeyes return five players with NCAA tournament experience in 2019, including, sophomore Samantha Cary, juniors Sara Wheaton and Josie Durr, Tawharu and sophomore Gianna Gourley.
Cary sat out the remainder of the Penn State and Wisconsin games after receiving two yellow card penalties, but returns to the field against Campbell.
“It’ll be a challenge for us,” Dilanni said. “But we like how we’re playing right now.”
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