June 22, 2018 | ° F

Senior embraces new position

Before the start of preseason training this year, Tricia DiPaolo’s role for the Rutgers women’s soccer team had been on the offensive side of the ball.

She has also been a team player, according to head coach Glenn Crooks.

So when Crooks decided it was best for the team to move the senior to the back as a defender during the summer, there was no hesitation on her part.

Crooks did not expect any other reaction from his two-year captain.

“Obviously because the way Trish is, she just took to it and tried to learn as much about it, and it has been a work in progress,” he said. “It has been really nice to see that once she got comfortable in how to defend back there, being in the right spot, now we see that she is much more freer in attacking.”

The comfort is evident in her recent play, as DiPaolo recently earned Big East Weekly Honor Roll recognition for her play last week against Louisville and Cincinnati.

“It is a great honor,” DiPaolo said. “But the team is doing great, so I’m glad the team is doing great rather than individual accolades.”

But for the Sparta, N.J., native, it was validation for a player whose job used to be to produce on a regular basis.

DiPaolo scored 108 career goals at Lenape Valley (N.J.) High School, where she earned New Jersey Player of the Year honors following her junior season.

She was a top-200 recruit when Crooks brought her to the program in 2007 as a forward.

She remained at the position until this season, and a new role on the defensive end has allowed DiPaolo only 10 shot attempts.

But on her first opportunity to score against the Bearcats, DiPaolo converted one of Rutgers’ best-executed plays in the Big East this season.

She took a corner kick from freshman forward Rachel Cole in the 24th minute and drilled a 23-yard shot in the top left corner of the net behind Cincinnati goalkeeper Kristina Utley to put the Knights up, 2-0.

“It felt pretty good considering it was Senior Day,” DiPaolo said of the goal. “But I’m just happy we got the win, and we are now scoring goals.”

Crooks was also content to see the captain score, and DiPaolo’s teammates were more excited about her first goal of the season than she was, he said.

“Trish has the utmost respect of her teammates, and each and every one of them really look up to her and feel so strongly about her,” Crooks said. “It was a very special moment.”

While she contributed to the Knights’ scoring resurgence last weekend, DiPaolo has also been a member of a defense that has surrendered only two goals in Rutgers’ past four games.

And with a backline featuring three underclassmen who play regular minutes, DiPaolo, along with senior defender Shannon Woeller, has done a good job leading the defense, Crooks said.

It will be up to the defensive unit to keep its next opponent, Seton Hall, out of the box in the Knights’ last regular season game.

If Rutgers wins tomorrow against the Pirates, it holds the fourth seed in the Big East’s National Division and hosts a first round home playoff match.

So while the goal was a nice memory for DiPaolo, she believes there are plenty more to make this season in the conference tournament — potentially — and beyond.

“We want to extend the season as long as we can and get into the Big East playoffs and NCAA Tournament,” DiPaolo said, “so we definitely need a win this weekend.”

By Bradly Derechailo

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