Junior gives RU?steady play upon return
Rutgers head women’s soccer coach Glenn Crooks always knew of the leadership junior defender Tori Leigh brought to the team.
The quality was on display during a team meeting, when Crooks read an email from freshman defender Erica Sousa.
“[Leigh] made a point to tell Sousa what a great practice she had, and here is a girl who has not seen a minute yet,” Crooks said. “And they are at the same position, so they’re competing for time, and there is Tori reaching out to her and letting her know she had a great practice and a great week. It really reflects the type of person Tori is.”
Leigh’s leadership is valuable for the Scarlet Knights as they continue to find a complete starting rotation, which will reflect the one from their previous game.
“I just try to do what I can for the team,” Leigh said. “If someone needs something, I want them to come to me. And I want the girls — especially the freshmen — I want them to feel confident on the field, and I want to help them out.”
The Knights have played 12 games this season, and Crooks has put out 12 different starting lineups.
One thing has been constant, which is the presence of freshmen and sophomores in the lineup. Rutgers featured 13 underclassmen, seven of which cracked the starting 11.
“It is very meaningful, especially in that part of the field in the back,” Crooks said. “There is a lot of young players involved back there. Outside of seniors Shannon [Woeller] and Trish [DiPaolo], it is a really young back line. To have her working and communicating like she does back there is just fantastic.”
Leigh sees her leadership as a way to pass down the torch from when she was a younger player, pointing to the captain trio of Woeller, DiPaolo and senior goalkeeper Emmy Simpkins guiding her as a younger player.
“I had a lot of people who I looked up to and I still look up to now,” Leigh said, “so I think it is great, and I really appreciate being one of those people that the girls can look up to.”
Leigh’s leadership has come from the sidelines of late, as the Hamilton, N.J., native continues to deal with an injury.
The Sept. 2 Sam Houston State game was the last one she played in before her appearance in Sunday’s 2-0 loss to Marquette.
Leigh saw 56 minutes in the contest and does not mind coming off the bench as long as she can contribute.
“Starting, not starting, I just want to be on the field,” she said. “Coming off the injury was hard, but everyone goes through it. I just keep positive, and whether I’m starting or not I just put what I can into the minutes I do get.”
With Crooks still shuffling around his lineup card, he believes Leigh is playing well enough after her injury to find her way back into a starting position.
“It is a weekly competition, and you get your opportunities in the games and you take advantage of it when it happens,” Crooks said. “I think Tori took advantage of her opportunity this weekend.”
For updates on the Rutgers women’s soccer team, follow Bradly Derechailo on Twitter @BradlyDtargum.