Sophomore faces familiar keeper in NJ road matchup
When the No. 24 Rutgers women's soccer team takes the pitch against intrastate rival Seton Hall tonight, sophomore forward Stefanee Pace will be prepared for the Pirates' defense.
The Kearny, N.J., native did not have to watch any game tape, and the Scarlet Knights (5-2) did not have to replicate Seton Hall's defensive scheme.
Pace just happens to be the former high school teammate of Seton Hall sophomore Jennifer Pettigrew, the Pirates' starting goalkeeper.
"It's a pretty big game, especially since it's 10 minutes from our hometown," said Pace, who has two goals on the season. "Even last year there was a big Kearny crowd, it was pretty interesting. We were the players who carried our high school team."
Prior to her short career at Rutgers, Pace earned Hudson County Player of the Year all four years at Kearny High School.
Pettigrew, meanwhile, enjoyed her own successes for the Kardinals, starting all four seasons and earning 47 shutouts.
The pair even played for current Seton Hall head coach Kazbek Tambi with the Arsenal World Class club team.
"I guess it always is a big advantage," Pace said of playing her former teammate. "I'm sure it is even for them. I have two other former club team members too that I used to play with that play [for Seton Hall], so it's a pretty big rivalry game for me."
The matchup with Rutgers is the second for Seton Hall (3-3) against a ranked opponent. The Pirates previously lost to No. 8 Maryland.
Tambi's squad also fell to Princeton, whom the Knights bested, 2-0, on Sept. 3.
Rutgers edged out Seton Hall, 2-1, in overtime last season. Pace assisted on senior forward Ashley Jones' game-winner in the 98th minute.
"There's definitely competiveness with this rivalry between the both of us," Pace said of Pettigrew. "Coming in, I know she wants to win this one really bad because of it and obviously I do too. Our parents are really good friends … so they'll probably be together in the stands too."
The Seton Hall contest is not only the Big East opener for both squads.
It also marks the third intrastate matchup for the Knights this season. Rutgers previously fell, 1-0, to Monmouth on Aug. 29, but rebounded with a positive result against Princeton.
"It's definitely pretty big," Pace said. "It's the Big East opener for us, so we want to start that off on the right foot. And then also it's another Jersey school. It's just about proving who we are in Jersey, especially since we want to throw [the Monmouth match] out the window."
After clashing with the Pirates in South Orange, N.J., Rutgers returns home for a Sunday matinee against No. 5 Boston College (5-0-1).
The Golden Eagles only tie came against No. 2 Stanford, 1-1, in an Aug. 20, showdown.
Rutgers had its own battle with a top-five power last weekend, when the Knights fell, 2-1, to No. 4 Portland at the Nike Invitational.
"The Portland game, that's one of those games where we need to learn to get over the hump against a top-five program like that," said head coach Glenn Crooks. "We've experienced that with Notre Dame as well, with last year being a perfect example. They split the final minutes and made it 1-0 in a game that we felt strongly about. When it was over, it was like, ‘Wow, this could've been ours.'"
This time, however, the matchup is at the friendly confines of Yurcak Field, where Rutgers owns a 10-3-2 record over the past two years.
"I think it's going to be really interesting, especially after what we saw after Portland," Pace said. "We played really well against Portland [last] weekend and that was just something that showed us kind of what we can do and this is just the next step."
Despite a positive showing against the vaunted Pilots attack, the Knights' loss to Monmouth was the team's biggest lesson of the season, which is almost at its halfway point.
"After that game, we realized we cannot take any team for granted," said redshirt freshman forward Jonelle Filigno. "We need to come out to every game and give 110 percent. That's what we've been doing. Even though we lost to Portland … they scored in the last five minutes. We held our own in that game."
Needless to say, Pace plans to replicate last year's performance against the Pirates and match the Knights' call for effort.
The sophomore's first goal in 2010 came on Aug. 27, against Colgate, followed by a two-match drought before finding the back of the net Sept. 5, against Bucknell.
If the trend continues, Pace is due for another goal tonight at Seton Hall. And if Pace scores, she won't be able to thank the game tape.