Rutgers triumphs at home with strong finish in season opener
Before the Rutgers women’s lacrosse team could get its inaugural season in the Big Ten underway, it had to get past a bitter former rival from a familiar conference.
The Scarlet Knights defeated former Big East foe Villanova by a score of 10-7 last Saturday. Rutgers continues its one-sided dominance in the rivalry, improving to 22-1 all-time against the Wildcats.
The game was pushed up from a 4 p.m. start to 11 a.m. due to the expectation of a third snowstorm to hit the northeast in three weeks.
Although temperatures were below freezing on the field, the Knights started the game red hot.
After winning the game’s first face-off, Halley Barnes put the 223 fans who braved the conditons at High Point Solutions Stadium on their feet just 44 seconds into the contest. Rutgers scored on its first possession of the season exactly one week after the men’s team scored on its first possession of the season against St. John’s.
The junior attacker penetrated a surprised Wildcats defense and slid her shot past goalkeeper Jaclyn Fraum to give the Knights their first lead of the season.
“As a team, our main focus is to come out hard every single half, and we really talk about setting the tone in the first five minutes of the half,” Barnes said.
The opening goal of the season was also Rutgers' first goal as a member of the Big Ten. Barnes put the moment into perspective.
“It’s huge. It’s something I get to hold onto forever," Barnes said. "Being a part of the first Rutgers women’s lacrosse team in the Big Ten is awesome, and it’s something that will be with me for the rest of my life."
But the home team's euphoria in the opening minutes was short-lived.
Villanova stormed back and scored four unanswered goals to stun the home crowd. After suffering the third goal in that sequence, which came just six seconds after the Knights allowed the second goal, 13-year head coach Laura Brand-Sias called a timeout to corral her troops.
“We told them not to hesitate. We were hesitant in our transition,” Brand-Sias said of what she told her team during that timeout. “We told them to be urgent and communicate and get everyone engaged whenever there was a dead ball foul.”
The timeout helped rejuvenate the team, allowing the anxious Knights to creep back into the game. Junior attacker Kim Kolodny pulled a goal back for Rutgers on a man-up situation before senior midfielder Jenny Vlahos scored her first goal of the day to knot the score at 4-3.
Before the referee blew the halftime whistle, each side scored a goal in the waning moments. The teams entered the locker room with the score 5-4 in Villanova’s favor.
If the Knights entered the first half red hot, they started the second half burning white hot.
Junior attacker Halley Barnes repeated her feat from the first half, scoring the first goal of the second half 26 seconds in to equalize for Rutgers.
Just 10 seconds later, senior attacker Melissa Arthur scored her first goal of the season. The Knights regained the lead for the first time since the 26:33 mark of the first half.
Building on the momentum of its ferocious start, Rutgers outscored the Wildcats 6-2 in the second half.
Vlahos led the second half surge, scoring two goals to conclude her hat trick. Her three goals are a career high.
The Manhasset, New York, native did not foresee having a career day, but attributed her outstanding performance to the help of her teammates.
“I didn’t expect to have such a great game, but I couldn't do it without my teammates,” Vlahos said. “We played great as a team. Everyone contributed to the win.”
With the win, the Knights improve to 52-45 against current Big East members.
Brand-Sias believes getting out on the right foot to begin the season provides the right spark.
“You’re always going to be happy coming out of the game with a win," Brand-Sias said. "The second half will be good momentum for us to carry forward throughout the week.”
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