116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY - Lisa Cellucci arrived at Grant Field early Saturday afternoon and composed herself. In a month filled with questions, confusion and tears, Cellucci had one more new moment to work through. And it was difficult.
'I'd say this is one of the harder days, actually,” said Cellucci, Iowa's interim field hockey coach. 'Because it's game day and what we're used to is not here. They did a wonderful job crossing the line and doing what they were supposed to do.”
Cellucci remains devoted to her friend and former head coach Tracey Griesbaum, who was fired Aug. 4 after allegations of mental and verbal abuse by former players. Griesbaum disputes the accusations, as do Iowa's current players, who released a statement of support on Wednesday.
The players wore no emblem, uttered no slogan and displayed no gestures recognizing their former coach in a 4-3 exhibition win against Louisville. Instead they played hard, which is what they consider their greatest tribute.
'It's still a work in progress,” senior Dani Hemeon said. 'Even though she may not be here as our coach, the legacy of what she built is what we try to uphold every day. It's been hard on the whole Iowa family.”
'We're playing for ourselves, we're playing for Tracey, we're playing for Lisa,” junior Natalie Cafone said. 'It was fun coming out here. It was emotional for some people, mostly everyone. It was good to be back and playing the game we all love.”
The support for Griesbaum was evident in the stands. Amy Romano, the mother of sophomore Jessy Silfer, sat in the upper corner of Grant Field and held a white sign that read 'Reinstate TG” with the phrase 'great coach, better person.” Romano flew in from Cazenovia, N.Y., to support her daughter.
'Lots of sleepless nights before the preseason,” Romano said. 'Shock. Totally disappointed in the University of Iowa.
'Coming from New York, it takes a lot to come here, and it has to be a real special place for (Jessy) to come, and it was. But then they fired Tracey.”
Nobody suffered through a range of emotions quite like Cellucci, who served as Griesbaum's steady lieutenant for 14 years. Cellucci serves on the National Iowa Varsity Club's board of directors and was a three-time first-team All-American at Iowa. She has a decorated playing and coaching career away from Iowa with stints on several U.S. national teams.
Her passion is about supporting the players, and they feel the same way.
'Lisa has been unbelievable,” Hemeon said. 'I can't imagine what she's going through, but she shows up every day with a plan for us to practice, to get better. Some days are harder than others, of course. That's expected. But she finds a way every day.”
In the end Saturday was the first snapshot of a season-long film roll. The team plays next week in North Carolina and mid-September in California. Iowa is young with 10 freshmen and only six upperclassmen. Cellucci remains strong, even in the toughest of situations. But hasn't been easy, either.
'I'm not going to say every day has been better,” Cellucci said. 'I've just really tried to breathe, take in the situation and when I step out in front of the girls be as positive as I can. But it's been extremely challenging.”
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