Knights open Big East slate against ’Nova
With the Rutgers women’s soccer team’s non-conference schedule wrapped up, so too is the first phase of a long and arduous regular season.
Phase two starts tonight, when the Scarlet Knights welcome Villanova to Yurcak Field to open their Big East slate.
“We look at the season in segments, and this is the second segment,” said head coach Glenn Crooks. “We’re done with our independent schedule, and we’ve done pretty well. We’ve made progress, and now it’s on to the Big East Conference regular season schedule.”
That progress is something Crooks preaches as the season wears on, and there are certainly early indications of the team’s growth.
The Knights’ (5-2) only two losses this season occurred on the road against ranked opponents — No. 18 Boston College and No. 4 UCLA — by one-goal margins.
And defensively, the Knights make it tough for opponents to score, allowing teams just 9.4 shots and .57 goals per contest.
Those statlines helped turn in two consecutive shutouts for the Knights last weekend against a pair of Ivy League opponents, but duplicating them tonight against Villanova will be all but easy.
The Wildcats (4-2-2) scored at least three goals in as many games this season and average nearly two per game heading to Piscataway.
“We just have to be really focused this weekend on the little details that we need to pay attention to,” said junior back Shannon Woeller. “We need to just keep focusing on those small things, and everything will come together the way it has been.”
But the other side of the field is where question marks pop up.
The Knights struggled to score of late, notching only two goals in the past three games.
Sophomore forward Jonelle Filigno, who leads the Knights with five goals and 11 points this season, is miles ahead of the nearest teammate on the stat sheet
But even she hit a small rut since her historic Aug. 29 hat trick against Fordham.
Although the Mississauga, Canada, native scored on a game-winning penalty shot against Yale on Sunday, it marked her first goal in four games.
Behind Filigno stands a two-way tie in points between freshman forward Amy Pietrangelo and junior forward Stefanee Pace, with Pace besting her rookie teammate two goals to one.
But statistically, the Knights attack is top-heavy, evident in the shot distribution from the top three players downward.
Filigno leads the team with 30 shots while Pace and Pietrangelo tie with 10, making the trio the only players on the team with double-digit shot attempts.
While some may view the offense as a trouble spot, Pietrangelo sees the Knights’ attack as deep and explosive.
“We’re all working really hard, and we have a big pool of attackers that the coaches can choose from,” Pietrangelo said. “I think we’re all really fighting for the spot because we want to have a chance to play in this game.”
Rutgers managed two victories last weekend despite scoring only two goals, leading to five votes in the latest NSCAA Coaches’ Poll.
Crooks embraced the national recognition and said he is happy when Rutgers earns the attention nationally.
But earning conference victories, especially against teams like Georgetown, which earned 28 votes in this week’s poll, is what could make or break the Knights by the postseason.
That is what makes this phase of the season so important.
“The third segment is postseason,” Crooks said. “Obviously how we do in this second segment is going to dictate our postseason hopes.”
Junior Tricia DiPaolo expects to return to the Knights’ roster on Oct. 26, five days after the team closes its regular season against Seton Hall. The date, tentatively set, was pushed back to allow DiPaolo more time to heal.
“We’ve just decided to take things a little bit slower since I’ve had so many knee injuries,” DiPaolo said. “As of yesterday I was doing all the speed and agility with the team… hopefully I’ll be able to play for the postseason.”