Commentary: Injuries make for difficult season
This certainly was not the way the Rutgers women's soccer team drew it up in the beginning of the year. But then again, having things not go according to plan is nothing new to the Scarlet Knights.
The Knights' 1-0 loss to West Virginia in Sunday's quarterfinal round of the Big East tournament could not help but bring to mind thoughts of what could have been.
Where would the RU be if it had just one of its six injured starters in Sunday's match?
The list of offensive weapons the Knights did not have at their disposal against West Virginia is extensive. It includes redshirt freshman Jonelle Filigno, who is widely regarded as the best female goal-scorer under the age of 20 in the entire nation of Canada. It includes senior Gina DeMaio, who entered the year on the pre-season Herman Trophy watch list. And it includes junior Ashley Jones, who still leads the team in points and was the player who all but picked up the Knights' offense and carried them on her back in the early parts of this season.
It's staggering to think where this team would be with all of these players on the field at the same time. But it's even more staggering to see where the Knights have gotten without them. RU's starting lineup — the starting lineup of the ninth ranked team in the country — is filled with former subs, with freshman and with players who came into this season just trying to get their legs under them after suffering major injuries of their own the year before.
These players were thrown into the spotlight of one of the highest profile women's soccer teams in the country, and they responded by helping to vault RU to its highest national ranking in school history.
"When somebody goes down, the first thing you feel is very sorry for the person who got injured, because you know all that they put into this," Rutgers head coach Glenn Crooks said. "But I always say that the team will survive and we'll figure it out. And I think the coaching staff and the players have been very good with that."
One of the first things that came to Crooks' mind after his team's loss Sunday was the enormity of what he's asked his players to do this season. He knows it's been a long road for everyone involved.
But thanks to the effort his team put in, that road has not ended yet.
The Knights are all but a lock for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
If things work out according to plan, they will be home for the first two rounds of the tournament and will be favored in their first two matches.
But after two years of some of the most bizarre, improbable luck imaginable, the Knights are not banking on anything right now.
"Especially for our senior class, this is their swan song, and for that group not to have all the weapons available to them to go as far as we can into these tournaments is disappointing," Crooks said. "And a less strong, less resilient unit might not deal with it the way we have … In a lot of ways, what we've done already this season is remarkable."