Literally 1 inch from goal, Iowa field hockey is preparing to go “back to the drawing board.”

Rutgers Scarlet Knights midfielder Marique Dieudonne (7) guards Iowa Hawkeyes defenseman Anthe Nijziel (6) as they pass the ball over during the fourth quarter of the game at Grant Field in Iowa City, Iowa on Sunday, October 2, 2022 the field dribbles. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — You could use a ruler to measure the distance field hockey in Iowa was from a Final Four trip.

“Just an inch different and we’re going into the Final Four,” said head coach Lisa Cellucci.

Twice in the NCAA Quarterfinals against second-placed Northwestern, Iowa nearly scored game-winning goals to reach the Final Four for the second time in three seasons.

A shot went off the northwest goalkeeper’s toe. The other hit the goal cage post and even fooled the announcers.

“The announcers said, ‘And Iowa scores!'” Cellucci said. “I literally thought we had it there.”

Instead, Iowa lost in a shootout, ending a roller-coaster season 12-8 for the Hawkeyes.

Iowa, which was ranked as high as the country’s No. 3 at one point and later struggled to keep postseason hopes alive, had no shortage of ups and downs in the 2022 season.

The Hawkeyes opened the year 8-1, losing one goal in overtime to then-No. 2 North Carolina.

Then tragedy struck. Iowa lost five of its next seven games, including three straight losses in mid-October. Four of the five losses went to the top 10 teams, but it still nearly knocked Iowa out of the NCAA tournament group of 18 teams.

“The message was, ‘Hawks, we still have so much to do,'” Cellucci said.

After beating unranked Michigan State 1-0, the Hawkeyes lost to Michigan in the Big Ten tournament. It was their third time playing the Wolverines in three weeks and their third loss.

“We talked as a group about the results we wanted from the days we were guaranteed together,” Cellucci said. “We’re really committed to them. … It was pretty awesome to see.”

Iowa also had to mend redshirt freshman goaltender Mia Magnotta after Grace McGuire’s lingering back injury sidelined the second-team All-American.

“Filling in a redshirt newcomer was a big job, but it’s fantastic,” said Cellucci.

Iowa had some time to think after the Michigan loss, but that also meant plenty of time to wait for this Sunday’s NCAA selection show while it was in the bubble.

“It’s been an agonizing couple of days,” Cellucci said. “It was a long few days where we watched a lot of hockey and just really hoped there weren’t any surprises because that was really the only thing that would have gotten us out of the tournament.”

Then during the selection show, Iowa was in the last region to be announced.

“Everyone was on needles and needles,” Cellucci said. “We haven’t had such stress in a selection show for years.”

Iowa’s first-round win over Virginia ended in a shootout — a situation Cellucci said is “basically like tossing a coin.”

That metaphorical toss went in the Hawkeyes’ direction against Virginia, but after the narrow misses in overtime against Northwestern, Iowa’s shootout luck ran out in the quarterfinals.

While Iowa was literally an inch from completing one of its goals for the season, the trip to the quarterfinals was itself a success.

“I had a good friend who said to me, ‘Lisa, think about it. You’re in the Elite Eight,'” Cellucci said. “‘There aren’t many people who can consistently say they just went to their fourth Elite Eight.’ … I have to keep that in mind because it’s an achievement.”

The group of head coaches who can say that about the last four seasons isn’t that much of a group. Iowa is the only program to reach the NCAA Quarterfinals every year since 2019.

However, a return in 2023 could be difficult. Iowa has seven fifth-year players and three seniors, though Cellucci said Esme Gibson and Sofie Stribos plan to use their extra COVID-19 year of eligibility.

“We have to get back to the drawing board,” Cellucci said.

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