Question-filled season culminates with strong play
For the Rutgers women's soccer team, 2010 was the year of questions and answers, or lack thereof.
The Scarlet Knights entered the season with major question marks resulting from the graduations of Erin Guthrie, the 2009 Big East Goalkeeper of the Year and defender Jen Anzivino, who earned first-team All-NSCAA Northeast honors.
Sophomore netminder Emmy Simpkins was supposed to be the heir between the pipes, but split time with true freshman Samantha Perretty during the year.
Similarly, junior defender Julie Lancos came into the 2010 campaign starting all but one match the previous season. But the Belford, N.J., native relinquished her hold on central defending duties to sophomore Shannon Woeller, who had a stint with the Canadian National Team.
"It took us awhile to find our consistency," said junior captain Tricia DiPaolo. "We finally found it, but it didn't go our way [to end the season]. We've been a little bit unlucky all season."
From the onset it was clear the Knights would have some growing pains, evidenced by an Aug. 29 loss to Monmouth — the team's first defeat to an unranked non-conference opponent in 22 matches.
The Knights managed only one three-game unbeaten streak the whole year.
"It just seemed like a lot of times we had possession and we were kind of beating these teams, but we couldn't actually finish them off," said senior midfielder Gina DeMaio. "It's something we struggled with throughout the season."
Rutgers reached the 2009 season's loss total of four by Sept. 19, after a 3-1 rout at the hands of then-No. 5 Boston College.
DeMaio, a preseason Hermann Trophy candidate for 2010, and senior Ashley Jones, the team's leading scorer the previous season, both entered the campaign after an offseason spent rehabilitating season-ending injuries
Eight other Knights dealt with the effects of lingering injuries as the 2008 and 2009 seasons came to a close.
Of that eight, seven players went on to earn significant roles for the Knights in 2010, including senior Allie Hambleton, a staple in Rutgers' back four, and Rheanne Sleiman, who quietly started all 15 games at right back despite a lingering ankle injury.
"I'm really, really disappointed we don't have any more games to play because all of [the seniors]," said head coach Glenn Crooks. "For Allie, her game has been consistent all year, especially here towards the end. [Sleiman] has been playing at a high level, so when she comes out of games, she just can't do it anymore."
Many Knights answered the call in 2010, highlighted by redshirt freshman Jonelle Filigno's rookie campaign, in which she tallied four goals and led the team with 12 points.
After a knee injury that came just seven minutes into a 2009 scrimmage against Montreal, Filigno came back and scored her first career goal in a Rutgers uniform in the Knights' first game of the season against Stony Brook.
Sophomore April Price tied for the team-lead in goals with five after only seeing playing time because of injuries to other players in 2009.
But no one stood more resolutely in 2010 than DeMaio, who regained her old form halfway through the season en route to becoming Rutgers' all-time assists leader.
The Parsippany Hills product ended her career with the Knights with quite the résumé, ranking first all-time in appearances (87), second in shots (258) and ninth in points (52).
"I've learned a lot this year," DeMaio said. "Having a fifth year really gave me a chance to grow up as a field player and as a leader. I'm really thankful I got this last year."
DeMaio spearheaded Rutgers' conference turnaround from Oct. 1-3 against Connecticut and Providence, in which she tallied her first four assists of the season.
Led by DeMaio and fellow captains DiPaolo and Karla Schacher, Rutgers saved its best soccer of 2010 for the last weekend of the regular season.
With a berth in the Big East Tournament in doubt after their first nine conference games, the Knights promptly defeated Cincinnati and Louisville by a combined 5-1 score en route to earning a No. 3 seed.
Ultimately, Rutgers fell just one game short of returning home to Yurcak Field — which plays host to the semifinals and finals of the Big East Tournament — with a 1-0 loss to West Virginia in Morgantown, W. Va.
"You can't compare [the past three games] to the inconsistencies of midseason," Crooks said. "You can't compare it to Monmouth. You can't compare it to Villanova. You can't compare it to DePaul. We played very, very well, so there's really no comparison other than we didn't get the result."
The loss was the culminating effect of a season that was anything but ordinary for the Knights.
Looking forward to the 2011 campaign results in yet more questions: Who among the Knights' double-digit freshman commits will stand out the most?
Will either Simpkins or Perretty emerge as Crooks's reliable starter in net?
Will Crooks and Co. regain their old form atop the Big East?
The last one was rhetorical.