Rutgers eye Big Ten playoff berth with win
The last weekend of the regular season is here, and everything the Rutgers field hockey team has worked toward to make the Big Ten tournament comes down to its performance on Friday.
Rutgers (7-9, 1-6) is in a three-way tie for last place in the conference with Ohio State (6-10, 1-6) and Indiana (9-7, 1-6). Only two of the three will make the Big Ten tournament.
If the Knights beat the Hoosiers on Friday, they’re in. If they lose, it becomes a bit more complex.
They would need a Michigan win over Ohio State to get in. Rutgers holds the tiebreaker over the Buckeyes after a 3-2 win earlier this season.
But for the Knights it’s simple: Win, and they’re in.
“We want to put our fate in our own hands,” said head coach Meredith Long. “We have prepared well and know what to expect and are ready to compete.”
Rutgers will have key contributor and sophomore captain Alyssa Bull back for this weekend. She missed the games last weekend due to injury but was a full participant this week in practice.
“We need to come out on fire, and we need to win,” Bull said, stressing the importance of Friday’s game. “We don’t want to leave it up to any other teams. I want to get it done with on Friday.”
The Scarlet Knights beat Indiana last season, 1-0, which Long feels will give her players a bit more confidence.
The Hoosiers started the season 7-0 but since then have struggled. They have played eight of their last nine games against a ranked opponent.
In that stretch, they have gone 2-7, beating No. 4 Duke and No. 20 Michigan State. Indiana currently rides a four-game losing streak.
The only way the Hoosiers make the Big Ten Tournament is with a win. With that in mind, it’s expected they will give Rutgers their best shot.
Indiana will look to its offensive playmaker Audra Hellman, who has posted impressive numbers this year with 13 goals, 5 assists and 31 points. Hellman has been a catalyst on with the ball on her stick, and the Hoosiers expect her to generate some opportunities in front of the net.
Despite the high pressure building around this game, Long believes her team is fit for the challenge.
“This group has been in high pressure situations that we’ve gained a lot of valuable experience from,” she said.
On Sunday, the Knights take on the University of Pennsylvania (7-7). The Quakers’ schedule has not been as difficult as Rutgers’ due to a relatively weaker level of competition in the Ivy League.
In their only matchup against a ranked team, they were blown out 9-0 against No. 2 Maryland.
Sophomore Jasmine Cole is going up against a team she led last year in so many offensive categories. She looks to spark Rutgers in any way she can against her former squad.
“I definitely want to win,” Cole said. “I’m going to be pumped. It’s going to be awkward to play them because I played with them for a year.”
For Rutgers’ senior captains Jenn Staab and Sophie Wright, it will be Senior Day and possibly the last game either ever plays as a Knight.
Emotions will be high, but they plan to maintain them and play a strong game, especially if they come off a win on Friday.
“We will reset and focus for that game on Saturday,” Long said. “They are a good team with quality players. It’s Senior Day for us, so there is a lot on the line for us in that game.”
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