Senior returns to set record for RU helpers
Before cementing her name in the Rutgers women's soccer history books and before leading the Scarlet Knights to an 8-5 overall record this season, midfielder Gina DeMaio just wanted another chance to play.
The fifth-year senior from Parsippany, N.J., tore her ACL in a Sept. 13 matchup last year against Arizona State, leaving her soccer career in doubt.
"I'm very happy for Gina … for a couple of reasons," said head coach Glenn Crooks. "I'm glad she got her fifth year, because that was in question for awhile. So we were so excited about that for her."
Crooks knows about DeMaio's talents and recovery more than anyone in the Knights' program. The 10th-year head coach taught DeMaio the intricacies of the game since she was 13 years old in Crooks' O.D.P. program.
Crooks was also there when the team captain arrived for training camp this summer without much wear put on her rehabilitated knee ligament.
"[DeMaio] is coming off a major injury," Crooks said. "We didn't allow her to compete in the summer. Her first competition was the first day she walked on campus for preseason. We knew it would take some time for her to really figure out the battle, and that's what's happening."
DeMaio finally began to hit her stride last weekend in wins against Connecticut and Providence, when the Knights outscored their Big East opponents, 6-1.
It took DeMaio 11 games this season before registering her first assist, but the Huskies and Friars found out that points come in bunches for the Hermann Trophy candidate.
DeMaio found teammates for goals on four different occasions last weekend en route to becoming Rutgers' all-time assists leader.
Jennifer Gibbons (1989-92) previously held the record with 27 assists.
"It's a great accomplishment, but it obviously means that we're scoring a lot of goals. That's the most important thing," said DeMaio, who earned Big East honors yesterday along with senior defender Allie Hambleton for her two-game performance last weekend.
"I've had great forwards to play with over my past five years here and they've been finishing, so they deserve as much credit as I do."
It would be naive to think that DeMaio's re-established presence in the midfield didn't serve as the catalyst for a Knights team that won three of its past four games.
Prior to DeMaio's four assists last weekend, Rutgers managed just four goals in its past six matches, resulting in a 2-4 record during the stretch.
And with a season-high four-straight road matches on tap for Crooks' squad, DeMaio and the Knights' re-energized play couldn't come at a better time.
"We've just been really unlucky," said redshirt freshman Jonelle Filigno, who is tied for the team's scoring lead with four goals. "Our mentality has just changed. Before this weekend, we hadn't been having great attacking mentality. But we changed that Friday [against UConn]. We're going at players and getting a lot more opportunities, a lot more shots on the scoreboard."
In besting Providence on Sunday in the team's most dominant Big East performance since a win against Villanova in 2008, DeMaio helped the Knights get over their case of the Sundays.
Rutgers defeated then-No. 19 Georgetown, 1-0, on Sept. 24 for the team's first victory over a ranked opponent this season.
The next match against a middle of the road Villanova squad brought the Knights back down to Earth, when the team returned to Piscataway with a 1-0 loss.
"It was really important and I think [the team] talked about what we did on Friday night [against UConn] wouldn't have really mattered if we came out here and lost [last Sunday]," DeMaio said. "We really took that to heart and made sure we … completed the weekend."
The Knights pay a visit to the Midwest on Friday when the team takes on DePaul in Chicago before heading to South Bend, Ind., to do battle with No. 5 Notre Dame.
The Blue Demons and Fighting Irish currently occupy the first two spots in the Big East's National Division, but Crooks knows more than anyone that DeMaio steps up when games matter the most.
"One of the biggest things that has always stood out is that [DeMaio] is a great distributor of the ball — right or left," Crooks said. "She sees the game so well. She puts players in good spots to score goals. It's her [recruiting] class that really started to put us on the map."