Stout defense allows Rutgers to flourish
Rutgers head women’s soccer coach Glenn Crooks was hesitant at first to give away the Scarlet Knights’ defensive game plan entering their semi-final game Sunday against Memphis.
He jokingly alluded to all the preparation that he hears that goes into each NFL or college football game.
“We are going to play a 3-4, split the A gaps and rush the quarterback,” Crooks said.
He was able to clarify the team’s defensive strategy.
“Our focus all year has been to get better each day within training and games,” Crooks said. “We are going up against a fantastic Memphis team that is difficult to defend. They are mobile, fast and talented, and that means we have [to] play disciplined like we have all year to defend them for 90 minutes.”
Examining the Knights’ defensive body of work this year, the first glaring statistic is the amount of shots other teams record against them.
Opposing teams get off an average of only 10.95 shots per game. That ranks eighth in the conference, ahead of only Temple and Houston.
Of those 10.95 shots per game, only 4.89 are on goal. Comparatively, Rutgers shoots an average of 7.16 times on the opposing keeper, which also ranks eighth in the conference.
The Knights’ defense tries to not only stop the opposing team from scoring, but also prevent them from getting off shots altogether.
“It all starts with [senior goalkeeper Jessica Janosz]. The way that she is passionate about goalkeeping really rubs off on us,” said senior back Tricia DiPaolo. “The defenders want to play for her and we don’t want anyone to get off a shot. We know she will make the save, but we have her back.”
For the season, Janosz has impressive numbers. She ranks second in the AAC with six shutouts and third in goals against average with 1.10 per game.
Janosz has had an unpredictably impressive year.
“This has been Jess’ year,” Crooks said. “She was never a full-time keeper at the college level before this year, so it was really tough to gauge exactly how well she would perform. She has performed to her expectations and has the confidence that she could take us to the conference championship. I’m very happy for Jess, because her hard work has paid off.”
The rest of Rutgers rallied around its goalkeeper. For the year, the Knights rank second in the conference in goals allowed, only allowing goals on 24 of 208 shot attempts.
The team also ranks second in shutouts with eight, which is not all that unexpected to the team.
“Throughout the year we have had the same goal: to get a shutout every single game,” DiPaolo said. “Obviously that’s not something we get every game, but as our defense has improved, it becomes easier to stop their chances.”
Rutgers’ offense complements the defense, as it routinely controls the ball and gets back to help.
“It makes such a difference when the offense is able to come back and help us out on defense,” said sophomore defender Brianne Reed. “On our board in the locker room it says ‘Deny Service’ because the other team is going to try and send it to our side of the field. When we have our forwards there denying it, the other team won’t get their opportunities, making our job easier.”
The defense has come a long way since the team’s 3-0 loss in its first scrimmage Aug. 13 against West Virginia.
“Our backs have been getting better each day,” Crooks said. “If you look back on Aug. 7 when we started and up to this point, there has been so much improvement.”
For updates on the Rutgers women’s soccer team, follow Tyler Karalewich on Twitter @TylerKaralewich. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.