Playoff fate hinges on outcome
The whole season for the Rutgers women’s lacrosse team will be on the line tonight at High Point Solutions Stadium.
After an up-and-down season that has resulted in an 8-8 overall record and a 2-4 record in the Big East, the Scarlet Knights’ postseason fate will be decided in their regular-season finale against Temple (6-9, 3-3).
There are a number of possibilities to decide what team will claim the fourth and final seed for the Big East Tournament.
For the Knights, even if they defeat Temple tonight, they will need help to make their way into the playoffs. Villanova (8-7, 3-3) is also vying for the final playoff spot, and it faces Connecticut tomorrow.
If UConn defeats the Wildcats, then Rutgers would clinch the four seed based on an advantage in goal differential. This is the deciding factor in the occurrence of a three-way tie with Temple after Saturday’s contest.
Even with the stakes high tonight, the Knights are focusing on what they can control despite all the implications around them. They have been in this spot in the standings before, but have ended on the wrong side of the playoff picture in previous seasons.
“We’ve all been in this position before with the season coming down to the last game,” said senior attacker Katrina Martinelli. “Everyone has to realize that what you do affects the whole team and when one person hangs their head after a bad play, everyone hangs their head.”
Maintaining a level head has been a top priority, according to the players.
In previous games, the Knights have been discouraged when the opposing team takes momentum. Sticking with the game plan set for them will be a key factor in tonight’s contest.
Temple is in a similar situation with Rutgers as both are fighting for the last playoff spot.
In both teams’ last three matchups over the past three seasons, each game has been decided by one goal.
“We always have a tough game against Temple,” said senior defender Chelsea Intrabartola. “We are pretty evenly matched, so it will be big for us to play a complete game and really leave it all on the field Friday.”
The Knights have focused on the defensive details this week in practice.
“We’re trying to fine-tune things on the defensive end with our communication and crashing the ball when it’s received on the inside of our defense,” said head coach Laura Brand-Sias. “Our draw control needs work also, it was a huge factor in the Louisville game and it needs to improve against Temple.”
The Owls play a similar style as the Knights that includes strong defense and patient offensive attacks.
Temple averages 9.27 goals per game, in large part to attacker Jaymie Tabor and midfielder Nicole Tiernan. Tabor is averaging 2.38 goals per game, which ranks fourth in the Big East.
Her skills, along with Temple’s overall speed, are areas that the Knights are focused on shutting down.
“They’re faster than us in transition, so we’re trying to adjust and prepare our ride to avoid giving up any fast break goals,” Brand-Sias said.
How effectively Rutgers starts tonight will factor into the outcome.
In past games when the Knights have started out slowly, they have seemingly abandoned their game plan and allowed their opponent to jump on them early.
Brand-Sias has attempted to motivate her team as much as she can for the season finale, but she has stated that ultimately the game will come down to her players.
“It’s not any other game,” Brand-Sias said. “Everything is on the line for Friday, so if they don’t have their own intrinsic motivation there is not much [the coaching staff] can do. Everybody knows what the situation is and Temple is going to come out firing, and we are ready for a battle.”
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