The Last Sure Thing
Oct. 30, 2007
by Jeff Smith
Tracey Griesbaum always had a feeling that Lauren Pfeiffer would make a great addition to the Iowa field hockey program. She began targeting the Mt. Laurel, N.J., product early in the recruiting process, but never seemed to receive much interest back from the talented standout. The Hawkeye head coach admits that she could have been stubborn and bailed on Pfeiffer, but instead she chose to be persistent and stay after the one person she wanted all along.
Persistence has paid off as Pfeiffer is now in her junior season in Iowa City and one of the top offensive scorers in the Big Ten. When Griesbaum looks back, she feels that Pfeiffer held nothing against Iowa, but rather it was just a time she was not yet ready to commit to such a big decision. In the end, Iowa became the last visit for Pfeiffer, who had looked at several schools before booking her flight to the Heartland.
"I never got that feeling with the other schools and then came my last visit to Iowa," Pfeiffer said. "I absolutely fell in love with the place as soon as I got to Iowa City. I could not of asked for anything better."
Pfeiffer has been a consistent performer since she stepped foot on campus.
As a freshman she tied for second on the team with eight goals and recorded two assists for 18 points. She was also named to the All-Big Ten Tournament squad - a feat she not only repeated her sophomore year, but was also named the tournament's Most Valuable Player as well. In 2006, Iowa earned its second-ever Big Ten Tournament title and first since 1994, having won the inaugural event. The Hawkeyes' postseason success last year was mainly due in part to the dominance Pfeiffer displayed.
As the No. 5 seed, Iowa knocked off No. 4 Michigan in the first round with a 2-1 overtime win, with Pfeiffer scoring both Hawkeye goals. She then countered with one of Iowa's two scores in a 2-0 upset over top-seeded Ohio State. Pfeiffer capped off her five-goal, three-day tournament with both of Iowa's goals in the 2-1 victory over No. 3 Penn State in the championship game.
This week Pfeiffer and the Hawkeyes travel to Columbus, Ohio, as the No. 3 seed in the 2007 Big Ten Tournament. After becoming the highest seed to win the event last season, Pfeiffer notes that in this conference, the seed is really just a number.
"We are not looking at this tournament as being the third-ranked team," she said. "We look at it as a chance to be first. We went into every game this season knowing that it was going to be just as hard as the last."
The Big Ten is consistently one of the top field hockey conferences in the nation. Of the seven schools that sponsor the sport, four will enter this week's postseason tournament ranked in the nation's top 10. Michigan is fifth overall, followed by No. 6 Iowa, No. 7 Michigan State and No. 9 Penn State. Ohio State and Indiana are also receiving votes outside the STX/NFHCA Top 20 Poll.
"I really do think that there is more parity in the Big Ten this season than in years past," Griesbaum said. "Any of the teams can win these games. There hasn't been the huge lopsided victories this year and as a conference, that's what we want to see."
After tying for the team lead with 10 goals and 22 points last season, Pfeiffer has taken on the brunt of the scoring this season. Of the team's 49 goals in 2007, Pfeiffer has scored 13 - almost twice as many as the Hawkeyes' second-leading scorer Roz Ellis (7). In addition, Pfeiffer has posted six assists on the year and a team-best 32 points. That total, along with her shots (85), shots per game (5.00), points per game (1.88) and total goals, are currently tops in the conference.
The numbers are even more impressive this year as Griesbaum has been forced to move Pfeiffer around from the midfield to the backfield. The Hawkeye mentor points to Pfeiffer's "adaptability" to play both positions as a reason for her success.
"It's ironic because the first two years she played in the midfield and with an untrained eye, her fundamentals and strength were excellent," she said. "Lauren is a very determined athlete who practices her set pieces and watches a lot of film. She does all the little things that add up in November."
In one way, Pfeiffer is somewhat humbled by the success this season and is first to note that the team consists of several different leaders, not just her. She considers herself an example of a leader and takes pride in working hard each day. She also knows she will never be satisfied with her work on the field.
"It is what it is," she said. "I've scored some goals this year but I will never be completely happy because there is always room for improvement."
That response seems to match the "quiet confidence" description Griesbaum gives when talking about her talented star. Attentive, organized and meticulous are also words she uses to critique Pfeiffer and is quick to confirm that nothing that Lauren does is by accident.
"She is one of our best students in the classroom and has been a very consistent performer for us," Griesbaum said, "The one thing we have challenged her to do this season is to become a verbal leader. But that's tough because it's not just something you can flip a switch with."
Maybe, but staying persistent with Pfeiffer is not something new to the Hawkeye coach.
Perhaps this week - Big Ten Tournament week - is one where Pfeiffer will step out and become a little more verbal. Her past history at this event would indicate that all those little things she has been doing so well this season should in fact add up in November.
The Iowa junior puts an interesting spin on this week's Big Ten Tournament, calling it the "last sure thing" of the field hockey season.
But one might also say that for Pfeiffer, it was Iowa in the end that turned out to be the last sure thing.