Losing skid ends year with lost opportunites
The Rutgers women’s lacrosse team’s season was a tale of two halves.
The Scarlet Knights began with the best start in program history, sitting at 7-1 at the midway point and finding their way into the national polls at No. 18 in the country.
But a disappointing showing in Big East play resulted in Rutgers missing the conference tournament, ending the season by losing six of its last seven games and finishing 1-7 in conference play.
A lengthy five-game homestand in April provided the Knights with the perfect setting to make a run against some of the Big East’s best.
But Rutgers would drop four of those games, with the lone win coming April 13 against Villanova — arguably its weakest Big East opponent.
The Knights opened conference play in late March against then-No. 6 Notre Dame, but struggled offensively in the game, losing 9-6.
Finding the back of the net would become the team’s Achilles’ heel for the rest of the season, as the Knights failed to win despite having a defense that finished the year ranked sixth nationally in scoring defense.
That unit featured several returning juniors who made an impact. After playing under second-year assistant coach Lisa Staedt Ojea, a defensive specialist, for a full season, the players became comfortable with the system that was in place.
Junior Hollie DiMuro led all Knights with 25 caused turnovers and 40 groundballs.
Playing behind the defense was senior co-captain goalkeeper Lily Kalata. She started all 16 games in net and averaged just more than eight goals allowed per game, putting her among the top 10 goalies in the nation.
“It’s disappointing how it ended, but I’m able to say that as a senior captain I was able to lead the team to its best start in program history,” Kalata said. “It didn’t add up to everything I hoped it would, but at least that’s something I can take away with me.”
Offensively, Rutgers failed to reach 10 goals in eight of its final nine contests. It would be the difference in close affairs against Connecticut on April 5, when they lost, 8-7, and its 10-8 defeat April 7 against No. 5 Syracuse.
In the season finale Sunday against Cincinnati, Rutgers maintained a three-goal lead in the late stages of the game. But the Bearcats sparked a four-goal run to end the Knights’ season with another loss.
Junior midfielder Katrina Martinelli — the team’s leading scorer with 37 goals and 10 assists — said the team became complacent entering Big East play.
“Our play kind of stayed the same while every other team got better,” Martinelli said. “Towards the end of the season, we fell a little, but the beginning of the season was great. How we felt at the beginning is how I want to feel all of next season.”
The strong start came from a six-game winning streak starting Feb. 23 against Fairfield.
Rutgers was able to rally behind the loss of senior midfielder Stephanie Anderson, who missed the rest of the season because of an injury suffered in the second game Feb. 20, a loss to Temple.
Martinelli, along with junior midfielder Amanda Trendell and junior attack Megan Clements, began to step up offensively.
Clements and Trendell scored four goals apiece in an 11-5 win March 2 against Monmouth.
In the Knights’ marquee victory of the season against March 6 then-No. 20 Penn, Clements and Martinelli each notched two goals in a low-scoring, defensive battle.
With the Knights battling injuries all season, young attackers were given time on the field.
Freshman attack Halley Barnes began her promising collegiate career with a 20-point campaign. Her 18 goals were the best among all freshmen on the team.
Freshman midfielder Chrissy Schreiber contributed with 11 goals on the season, while also causing five turnovers.
Freshman attack Kim Kolodny rounded out the trio of rookie scorers by tallying six goals and two assists.