Rutgers draws top-caliber Michigan in tourney
In its first-ever season in the Big Ten, the Rutgers field hockey team was able to earn a spot in the Big Ten Championships with a 2-1 win Saturday while dashing Indiana’s hopes of doing so in the process.
Although it’s been a bumpy first season, the Scarlet Knights (9-9, 2-6) have competed in each game they’ve played, and of their losses in the Big Ten, three were by one goal.
With the win, Rutgers clinched the seventh seed in the tournament, meaning they will take on No. 2 seed and tournament host No. 12 Michigan (12-6, 6-2) today. The two met earlier this season in Ann Arbor, with the Wolverines prevailing 2-1 thanks to a second-half goal from forward Eliza Stein.
The Knights are ready for the clash and have no doubts about their ability to get the win.
“We have nothing to lose at this point,” said sophomore midfielder Alyssa Bull. “We are going to prepare this week and give it all we have. Everyone wants it so badly. We are just going to fight until the very end.”
The Big Ten Championships are at Michigan this season, meaning the Knights are essentially playing a road game in the Wolverines’ territory.
Some may think this poses a disadvantage for Rutgers, but sophomore forward Rachel Yaney disagrees.
“It’s something we have experienced already,” she said. “We know what to expect in the atmosphere and the players they have.”
Going into the game, the Knights think they may have an advantage with sophomore defender Sofia Walia playing unlike the last time the two sides met.
Throughout the season, she has become a game changer, and head coach Meredith Long feels it will give the team even more confidence with Sofia being at full force.
But Long thinks it is also important to set the tempo and perform well.
“We definitely perform well when we set the tempo and score early,” Long said. “Against Michigan, we have to be able to perform under pressure, make good decisions with the ball and value possession. If we do those things, we will get the outcome we want.”
Rutgers may be entering the game at the right time as the offense hit on all strides this past weekend. Yaney described the offense as peaking at the right moment, while Bull believes that if the attack keeps clicking, the Knights will have the edge.
“This weekend, we’ve really hit a turning point in our offensive line, and if we continue to score and execute up front, I think we will be unstoppable,” Bull said.
In this tournament, it’s win or go home. So, it’s important for the Knights to click on all cylinders and aspects of their game, as well as be able to execute under pressure.
“I don’t necessarily think our team views themselves as the underdog anymore,” Long said. “I think we really see ourselves being on a completely even playing field with Michigan. Our players are going to put pressures on themselves, but this team has become more calm and composed. I’ve seen them mature.”
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