Rutgers ends first Big Ten season with tournament loss
Three seasons ago, head coach Meredith Long was promoted from her assistant coaching job and embarked on a mission to rebuild the Rutgers field hockey program.
Her first recruits as an assistant were senior midfielders Jenn Staab and Sophie Wright.
In the last four years, the trio endured some tough times, going a combined 31-40 in the regular season.
Each season, they began to improve steadily and their patience paid of this year when they moved to the Big Ten and earned a tournament bid.
“We’ve done a lot of incredible things in a very short amount of time with such a young team,” Long said. “We had a mountain in front of us when I took over this program three years ago, and each year we have chipped away and have begun to create something here.”
For the second straight season, the Scarlet Knights finished the regular season at .500, with a 9-9 record. Although the record was not ideal, Rutgers was able to adjust to the rigorous Big Ten more and more as the season went on.
But the season came to a screeching halt in the quarterfinals of the tournament, as the Knights fell to the host team and No. 2 seed Michigan, 3-0.
“Just qualifying for the tournament was a big step for the program, and these players did it,” Staab said. “The experience of being at the tournament is huge for [the rest of the team] going forward.”
They faced increased competition but were able to always compete and unfortunate to not get that sought-after win over a ranked team. Wright felt the Big Ten would be a big task for a new member but that with time it would be easy to adjust.
“I think it [the Big Ten] teaches you that you have to fight for where you want to be and that nothing is easy,” Wright said. “It must be earned through practices each season. At first, it took time to adjust in the conference, but we definitely were able to improve our game mentally and physically as the season progressed.”
Rutgers loses two-time captains Staab and Wright but return 19 players on the roster, including current captain sophomore midfielder Alyssa Bull. With the first season of the Big Ten in the books and all the experience that is returning, the Knights have a chance to build on what they did this season.
“To return so many starters is huge compared to other Big Ten lineups,” Long said. “Unlike other teams, we will not be losing many players and [will] probably be returning the most players for next season. The players coming in will hopefully make an immediate impact as well.”
Rutgers’ top forward line of junior Katie Champion and sophomores Jasmine Cole and Rachel Yaney will return and look to build on the cohesion they found at the end of this season. The trio accumulated 16 of Rutgers’ 34 goals this season.
The team returns a solid backline of sophomores Elyse Broderick and Devon Freshnock, as well as second team All-Big Ten defender Sofia Walia, who played most of the season together.
Sophomore goalie Shevaun Hayes played every minute of every game this season and will look to continue doing so for the next two years.
For Rutgers, it is all about the preparation it must put in this offseason if it has any hopes of improving its stance in the Big Ten.
The Knights will take the time to let this season sink in and enjoy the accomplishments they had, but come the spring, all the work to once again compete in the Big Ten begins.
Rutgers looks to chip away from that mountain some more.
“Winning games and competing in games while contending for a championship in year three is huge and incredible,” Long said. “I’m proud of our progress and excited for the future.”
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