Rutgers tries to contain Big East’s top-scoring offense
Following its close win against Temple last Friday, the Rutgers women’s lacrosse team has reached the playoffs for the first time since 2008, accomplishing its preseason goal of making the Big East Tournament.
But if you ask anyone on the team, they are not satisfied just to be there.
This week of practice has allowed the Scarlet Knights (9-8, 3-4) to adjust their focus from qualifying for the tournament to making a run in the playoffs.
Rutgers will need to put together its best performance of the season if it hopes to defeat No. 24 Louisville.
The Cardinals (13-3, 7-0) lead the Big East in almost every statistical category, including goal per game with 14.88, draw controls per game with 16.75 and average goals against with 8.07.
Their offense features the top two scorers in the Big East with attacker Nikki Boltja and Faye Brust. They are currently on a nine-game winning streak, and have not lost since March 8.
“They have some of the top scorers in the country, and overall are very strong and relentless on attack,” said junior midfielder Lauren Sbrilli.
The Knights are well aware of the talent Louisville has on their team, and are planning on using it to their advantage once the game starts tonight.
“I’m going to be honest to say that on paper we are the underdog, so the pressure is not on us,” said head coach Laura Brand-Sias. “Hopefully they use that to play loose, have fun and put our best effort forward to win the game.”
The underdog mentality is something that the Knights have accepted for their contest against the Cardinals.
The last time Rutgers played Louisville on April 19, the Cardinals defeated the Knights, 18-6. They had the advantage in every statistical category and controlled the flow of the game from the opening draw.
Despite the lopsided loss, both teams know that what happened in the regular season does not matter much once playoffs come around. But the experience the Knights gained by playing the Cardinals so recently has been viewed as a positive by the coaching staff and team alike.
“I think the sense of familiarity and the negative feeling that we have left over from that last game will fuel us to put together a good performance,” Brand-Sias said.
The good performance that the Knights are planning on putting together will hinge on one key area — draw controls.
“They are really hard to slow down so we are trying to minimize their possessions, which starts with the draw control,” said junior defender Hollie DiMuro.
The draw control has been one of the key areas of focus for the Knights all season.
They have rotated in a number of players throughout the year, including Sbrilli, senior attacker Megan Clements, junior midfielder Jenny Vlahos and freshman defender Sara Kramer with the goal of gaining the advantage in the draw.
Louisville leads the nation in draw controls per game with 16.75.
Faceoff specialist Kaylin Morissette averages 8.88 controls per game. Vlahos, who leads Rutgers in draw controls, only averages 1.76 per game.
Having the advantage in this area of the game — or even coming close to Louisville — will be crucial for the Knights’ success.
“The biggest key is number 6 [Morissette] who takes the draw,” Brand-Sias said. “She has dominated on the draw against all of their competition so we’ve stressed to them that it’s not about taking her opportunities away, it’s about limiting them.”
The Knights know that not everything is going to go their way tonight. They are prepared to deal with the momentum swings of the game, much like they have dealt with the up-and-down nature of their season as a whole.
“We have to remain mentally focused when they do get their opportunities,” Brand-Sias said. “We need to have the respect for them as a team and know that they are going to have positive things go their way in the game — we just have to limit them.”
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