By September 14, in one of its most dominant seasons to date, the Big Ten Conference had ranked as many as eight teams in the top 25 of the National Field Hockey Coaches Associations. Six of the eight Big Ten teams ranked in the poll found their way into the top-10.
[The Big Ten is] show how good [it] can be top to bottom, said Michael Boal, associate head field hockey coach at the University of Iowa. It’s going to be a competitive conference game, and every game will get to the small margins and details.
The Big Ten proved its mettle against other leagues during the non-conference season. In the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, the Big Ten defeated the ACC.
Iowa won its two Big Ten/ACC Challenge games against Wake Forest and North Carolina on August 27 and 29, respectively. The Hawkeyes defeated the Demon Deacons 5-3 and defeated then No. 1 Tar Heels, 3-1.
Michigan, Penn State, Northwestern and Maryland have all had victories over the top ten teams so far this season.
Last year was the top of the Big Ten standings blockade. The Wolverines went on to win the regular season title, trailing Penn State, Northwestern, Iowa, Maryland and Rutgers.
It’s going to be a very close battle, and this year it will be even closer, Boal said. When you see the teams on paper and what we’ve seen of the games played so far, it’s an exciting Big Ten as a whole.
After going through the Big Ten gauntlet and finishing last year with a 5-3 league play record, Iowa is feeling primed for conference action this season.
RELATED: No. 2 Iowa Field Hockey Scores First Conference Win of the Season
It will probably be similar this year, there are a lot of teams with some great players, said fifth-year senior midfielder Ellie Holley. Everyone is fighting for first place, so we have to take it game by game.
Michigan appears to be the early favorite to win the Big Ten in 2021. The Wolverines are currently number 1 in the NFHCA poll and have a 6-0 record on the season.
Michigan lost some of its off-season seniors via graduation, but the Wolverines did retain one of their top scorers for 2020, Halle ONeill. ONeill put the ball in the back of the net three times last season.
Northwestern also raised some eyebrows during the non-conference season, taking a 4-0 win over then-No. 6 UConn. The Wildcats currently hold an overall record of 8-1.
All three Northwesterns 2020 All-Americans returned for the 2021 Wildcats campaign, including Bente Baekers, who scored four goals in three games against the Hawkeyes last year.
It’s so exciting to be part of a conference that really excels at hockey and enjoys playing against all the teams in the conference, said UI fifth-year senior Maddy Murphy.
Iowa is aiming for its second conference title in three seasons in 2021. The Hawkeyes kicked off their Big Ten schedule with a 3-0 win over Indiana on September 17.
Iowa will face Penn State twice this weekend at Grant Field in Iowa City, once on Friday and once on Sunday.
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