IOWA CITY – Building a perennial power within the college ranks involves harvesting the ripest recruits in one’s back yard. No matter the sport, programs lean heavily on local players to sprout success.
Or at least that’s the theory.
Iowa boasts some of the most fertile land for schools to cultivate offensive lineman, men’s and women’s basketball players and volleyball players. Iowa, Iowa State and Northern Iowa’s place in the national rankings supports this notion.
Except for the No. 11 ranked field hockey team in the country. Iowa hosts the Big Ten Championships this weekend at Grant Field. It’s one of only a few locales Iowans can see field hockey. It’s a state where not a single high school offers the sport, making No. 11 Iowa the only team within the top 25 without a home grown player in its squad.
“I think what we’re kind of known for in the Midwest is being accepting, being open,” Iowa field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum said. “That’s been our philosophy in recruiting.”
Senior Sarah Drake is the closest to home, trekking from Ann Arbor, Mich., a mere 818 miles from Iowa City. Junior Niki Schultheis, hailing from Hamburg, Germany, is 4,393 miles from home, the furthest of any Hawkeye.
“I kind of wanted to go to the Midwest because I have relatives in Minnesota. I like the Midwest mentality a lot. And Iowa has a winning record against every Big Ten team,” Schultheis said. “I mean the program looked outstanding from its history, so why not try that.”
Schultheis is one of four international players on the roster. Junior Marike Stribos came to Iowa from Brussels, Belgium. Senior Jessica Barnett and Karli Johansen both committed to the Hawkeyes from the same high school in Vancouver, Canada. All four are starters for the Hawkeyes and combined for 45 points on the year, including 14 goals and 17 assists.
Iowa was the only school in the United States that showed serious interest in the quartet.
“Our recruiting philosophy really doesn’t discriminate. We have an open door to anyone who’s interested in Iowa,” Griesbum said. “I’m not saying we’re going out in every country in the world and recruiting prospects, but I think through the years, we’ve built a great reputation in this program. A great way of recruiting is word of mouth.”
Look no further than Barnett and Johansen.
“I was talking to a few other schools, but really only two or three and I knew JB (Barnett) love it here,” Johnansen said. “As soon as I heard from Iowa, that was definitely like OK.”
The word on the Hawkeyes extends overseas too.
“In my club there was this girl, Sara Dawson, who came for a year. She played on my team and it turned out she played for Iowa,” Stribos said.
In Stribos’ case, the first time she saw the campus was in preparation for the first day of classes freshman year. Schultheis contacted Greisbaum to gauge the school’s interest in her, while the Hawkeye’s reached out to Barnett when she was a sophomore.
Barnett didn’t reciprocate the interest until two years later, but the campus cemented her decision.
“I came and I loved it. The facilities were nothing like I’ve ever seen before,” Barnett said. “I was like ‘Oh my gosh, I need to come here.’ It was just incredibly awesome”
Schultheis’ first impression echoed that of Barnett’s. But what also makes Iowa unique, is the fact that ever player is in foreign territory.
No player can drive a few hours for a homemade meal. There are no weekend vacations back home to do laundry. The roster is not only a player’s teammates, but a list of new family members.
“Every prospect just love our team and the culture that we build. It’s very accepting, yet the standard is really high,” Greisbaum said. “So a lot of times you can go and get a high standard but you’re going to get a little mean edgy kind of team. Or you can go somewhere, where we’re all friends, but not very good and we don’t have a standard. I think (what we have) that’s perfect. That’s my goal.”
So far Greisbaum has accomplished that. There seems to be no signs of slowing down either. Recruiting globally is easier now than it was even five years ago due to the influx of technology. Today, all she has to do is click a link to YouTube and she’s watching a potential recruits highlights.
The problem is any coach around the country can do the same thing. Without a home base, don’t expect Greisbaum to dole out any tips.
“I don’t want to give anyone answers,” Greisbaum said hesitantly. “But they have phenomenal hockey (in Canada).”