IOWA CITY — In recent seasons, the Iowa women’s soccer team has had some stout defensive efforts undone by a lack of offense.
Backed by a core group of 12 seniors, the 2019 Hawkeyes appear to have balanced their game. The improvement has resulted in a 6-0 start to the season, the best for Iowa since 2013.
“It is a testament to how well we have doing as a group, just as a team,” said four-year starting goalkeeper Claire Graves, who will help the Hawkeyes face Northern Colorado in a non-conference match Friday at 7 at the University of Iowa Soccer Complex. “We have a good strong set of upperclassmen. Hopefully our leadership is helping the younger girls and kind of pulling us along. It has just been a great group effort. Everyone is showing up every day, wanting to train and wanting to get better.”
Graves was named the Big Ten Co-Goalkeeper of the Week after Iowa posted a pair of road shutouts last weekend against No. 14 North Carolina State and UNC Greensboro. The Indiana native now ranks second in program history with 20 shutouts, while the N.C. State win was the third in Iowa history over a team ranked 14th or better.
“We just really dug down deep and went back to our defensive roots,” said Iowa senior defender Hannah Drkulec, who was also honored by the Big Ten with her second Defensive Player of the Week nod this season. “We went back to making sure that they get nothing for free and they have to work for everything. If one person gets broken down, the next person is there to pick up the slack and ready to knock them out.”
Graves and the Iowa back line of Drkulec, sophomores Sarah Wheaton and Riley Whitaker, plus freshman Sam Carey have also been the beneficiaries of an offense that is controlling the action more effectively than in previous seasons.
“It is so important,” Drkulec said. “Once you win that ball, it is so important to keep it to allow the defenders to rest. In our game against N.C. State, in the second half I felt like I was resting half the time because our offense was doing such a good job of holding the ball up, which is great for me and great for the team.”
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Ten different Hawkeyes have scored a goal this season, led by senior forward Devin Burns and senior midfielder Natalie Winters, who each have three. Drkulec, fellow senior Kaleigh Haus and reserve forwards Gianna Gourley and Samantha Tawharu all have a pair of scores.
Ten different Hawkeyes also have at least one assist. Cary, Gourley, Tawharu, senior reserve forward Emma Tokuyama and freshman reserve midfielder Melina Hegelheimer each have two.
“We’re pretty athletic right now across the entire team,” sixth-year Iowa Coach Dave DiIanni said. “Our team is very difficult to break down.”
With a win over Northern Colorado (2-4-1), the Hawkeyes will have gone 15 home matches in a row without a defeat, which includes three ties. That would set up a Sunday showdown at Notre Dame. Like the Hawkeyes, the Fighting Irish are undefeated and receiving votes in the latest United Soccer Coaches rankings.
“It is going to take the same mindset as last weekend,” Drkulec said. “Learning from those mistakes we made because Notre Dame is going to be a great team and so is Northern Colorado. Going in with that home win and then going on the road is going to be really important for us.”
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