116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — One could measure the distance Iowa field hockey was from a Final Four trip with a ruler.
“Just an inch different, and we’re going to the Final Four,” head coach Lisa Cellucci said.
Twice in the NCAA quarterfinals against second-seeded Northwestern, Iowa almost had game-winning goals to go to the Final Four for the second time in three seasons.
One shot went off the Northwestern goalkeeper’s toe. The other hit the post of the goal cage and even fooled the announcers.
“The announcers were like, ‘And Iowa scores!’” Cellucci said. “I literally thought we had it there.”
Instead, Iowa lost in a shootout, putting a dramatic end to what had been a roller-coaster 12-8 season for the Hawkeyes.
Ranked at one point as high as No. 3 in the country and later fighting to keep postseason hopes alive, Iowa had no shortage of ups and downs in the 2022 season.
The Hawkeyes opened the year 8-1, with the one loss coming by one goal in overtime against then-No. 2 North Carolina.
Then the adversity hit. Iowa lost five of its next seven games, including three straight losses in mid-October. Four of the five losses were to top-10 teams, but it nonetheless almost pushed Iowa out of the 18-team NCAA Tournament bracket.
“The message was, ‘Hawks, we still have so much in front of us,’” Cellucci said.
After a 1-0 win over unranked Michigan State, the Hawkeyes lost to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament. It was their third time playing the Wolverines in a three-week period, and the third loss.
“We talked about as a group the results that we wanted out of the days that we were guaranteed together,” Cellucci said. “We really committed to those. … It was pretty awesome to see.”
Iowa also needed to bring redshirt freshman goalkeeper Mia Magnotta up to speed after Grace McGuire’s lingering back injury sidelined the second-team All-American.
“It was a tall task to have a redshirt freshman step in, but she is fantastic,” Cellucci said.
Iowa had some time to reflect after the Michigan loss, but that also meant a lot of time to wait for the NCAA selection show that Sunday while on the bubble.
“They were a torturous few days,” Cellucci said. “That was some long days watching a lot of hockey and just really hoping for no upsets because that would have been really the only thing that would have got us out of the tournament.”
Then during the selection show, Iowa was in the last region to be announced.
“Everybody was on pins and needles,” Cellucci said. “We haven’t had to have that type of stress for quite a few years in a selection show.”
Iowa’s first-round win over Virginia went down to a shootout — a situation Cellucci said is “basically like flipping a coin.”
That metaphorical coin flip went the Hawkeyes’ way against Virginia, but then after the close misses in overtime against Northwestern, Iowa’s shootout luck ran out in the quarterfinals.
While Iowa was literally an inch off from accomplishing one of its season goals, the trip to the quarterfinals itself marked an achievement.
“I had a good friend tell me, ‘Lisa, think about it. You’re in the Elite Eight,’” Cellucci said. “‘There’s not a lot of people who can consistently say that they just went to their fourth Elite Eight.’ … I have to keep that in mind because it is an accomplishment.”
The group of head coaches who can say that about the last four seasons is not so much a group. Iowa is the only program to reach the NCAA quarterfinals every year since 2019.
A return in 2023 may be difficult, though. Iowa has seven fifth-year players and three seniors although Cellucci said Esme Gibson and Sofie Stribos plan to use their extra COVID-19 year of eligibility.
“We’re going to have to get back to the drawing board,” Cellucci said.