Home weekend offers RU shot at redemption
The Rutgers women's soccer team returns to Yurcak Field in Piscataway tonight for a 7 p.m. matchup with Big East foe Connecticut. The Scarlet Knights (6-5, 1-2) come into tonight's showdown off a 1-1 weekend, highlighted by their victory over then-No. 19 Georgetown — the team's first win over a ranked opponent this season. Head coach Glenn Crooks' team came out last Sunday against Villanova — a team it tied, 1-1, last season — and suffered its fifth loss of the year, further magnifying the Knights' consistency issues. "I still think we're OK. We've still got eight games left in the league. That means there are a lot of points available," Crooks said. "We put ourselves in a bit of a bind — not only finishing first or second in the league, but now qualifying for the Big East playoffs. But there's plenty of time." UConn (5-4-2, 1-1-1) comes into the night meeting fresh off a 3-0 thrashing of Syracuse, which gave the Huskies their first Big East win of the season. Junior forward Jessica Shufelt paces a UConn squad that owns a 14-1-4 record all-time against Rutgers. But the Knights may welcome a matchup with the Huskies with open arms, after delivering several impressive performances against top-tier programs, including a narrow 2-1 loss to then-No. 4 Portland and last Friday's win over the Hoyas. Rutgers showcased little of what once made the team a top-25 caliber squad in its recent losses to Seton Hall and Villanova — programs traditionally not the strongest in the Big East. "We're seeing that the level of competition in the league is so much better now," Crooks said. "Seton Hall beats us, we beat Georgetown, Georgetown beat Seton Hall [last Sunday]. Just looking at that little troika there and you get the idea that each game is its own entity." Last weekend's frantic play during the final 30 minutes against Villanova needs to carry over into the two-game homestand against the Huskies and Providence, according to senior defender Allie Hambleton. "We basically can't lose anymore, so that's our mentality," Hambleton said. "We come on the field and we're not losing and it's not even an option, so that's how we practiced." A short stay at home may be just what the doctor ordered for the Knights prior to a four-game road trek, which includes a pit stop at No. 5 Notre Dame. Last Friday's victory over the Hoyas improved Rutgers' record at home to 4-2 on the year. "We always like to play at home in front of our home crowd, with more support and everything like that," said junior Karla Schacher, who owns two goals this season. "The importance of these games this weekend is not about being at home, but more about getting the results, getting the win." A positive weekend performance may hinge on whether Schacher, who moved from the midfield to forward against Georgetown, can take some of the offensive pressure off of fellow forward Jonelle Filigno. The Knights have just four goals in their last six games, causing the team to fall out of the national rankings and into a tie for fifth in the Big East's National Division. "We're struggling to score goals and that's not a good thing," Crooks said. "At the same time, we're allowing things defensively that we shouldn't." Scoring goals posed a problem for Providence (7-2-1, 1-1-1) in its past three outings, in which the Friars registered just two balls that reached the back of the net. Providence is enjoying a rebound year under head coach Jim McGirr, whose team ended the 2009 campaign at 8-8-3 and 3-6-2 in the Big East. The Friars, whom the N.S.C.A.A. ranked 10th in the Northeast prior to an 0-1-1 weekend, sport a pair of four-goal scorers in Amanda Webster and Jill Camburn. For the Knights to contain two high-powered Big East attacks, communication between the Rutgers back four and its midfielders needs to be fluid — a problem in the Knights' glaring Sept. 19, 3-1 home loss to then-No. 5 Boston College. "I think our play in general has improved since the Boston College loss," Schacher said. "There were a lot of communication errors and basically we've communicated in practice on how to fix those errors, as well as in functional situations where we can fix those same problems."