Rutgers hosts conference foes this weekend in No. 14 Northwestern, No. 18 Michigan
At the core of any great team is the sheer, unbounded will to win.
When the Rutgers field hockey team welcomes two of the nation’s top programs to Bauer Track and Field/Field Hockey Complex this weekend, it will have the chance to put this permeating notion to work.
The Scarlet Knights (5-2, 0-1) kickoff home conference play today with a matchup against No. 14 Northwestern (7-3, 0-1) before taking on No. 18 Michigan (6-2, 1-0) on Sunday.
Rutgers is familiar with these formidable Big Ten opponents.
After taking then-No. 13 Northwestern into overtime last season, the Knights landed on the wrong end of a 1-0 final score. That same weekend, Rutgers fell to Michigan, who at the time ranked 14th in the country, by a slim 2-1 margin.
With a fiery determination to correct this past and capitalize on the new year’s opportunities, the Knights are eager to let their actions speak for themselves this weekend.
“I think that we are gonna be in a position to really compete,” said head coach Meredith Civico. “Everybody’s gotta step it up and I think our key players need to have really solid performances in order for us to get the result, but I have no doubt that the team is excited to host both of these opponents at home this year. The fact that both games were one goal last year … I think the team’s hungry for sure.”
Rutgers takes on its first Big Ten rivals at home after road trip last weekend where the team totaled nine goals in just two games. Going 1-1 overall, the Knights suffered their first conference loss to No. 16 Iowa in a 4-3 finish before rebounding with triumphant a 6-0 victory over Missouri State.
Rutgers enters this weekend’s contests leading the Big Ten in both goals per game and assists per game. A crucial contributor to the Knights’ front line, Nicole Imbriaco is the conference leader in goals per game and points per game, bolstering a 1.29 goal average and 2.86 point average.
Currently on a three-game multi-goal performance streak, the senior forward leads her team with 20 points on the season and totals nine goals with two assists in just seven games.
Rutgers will not be undertaking its upcoming matchups unarmed.
“Our ability to attack as a team — I think that’s one of our biggest strengths,” Civico said. “We’re scoring some really nice field goals. I think we’ve got a lot of variety, and we’ve got a lot of options on our attack penalty corners. We really haven’t executed as well as we can and that’s been a really big focus this week from the team.”
The fourth-year head coach emphasized the necessity of polishing corner plays in order to take advantage of offensive opportunities.
“I think if we can get our set pieces down, we’re gonna execute and be able to score and finish there, which I think is gonna make a difference in these Big Ten games. It’s really one goal, its one opportunity that’s making the difference, so we understand that we have to convert there and we have to make it count.”
Taking on two ranked opponents back-to-back, the Knights have their work cut out for them this weekend.
Michigan is currently at the forefront of overall conference standings, with Rutgers trailing at the fifth slot and Northwestern close behind in sixth. Northwestern leads the Big Ten in both total points and goals, while Michigan comes to the Banks on a six game winning streak and an undefeated record in conference play.
With all three teams suffering their only losses of this season to ranked opponents, it will be a momentous weekend for Big Ten field hockey.
The Knights have already proved itself as a team that has come a long way and made considerable strides since last year. Rutgers is optimistic that the outcomes of this weekend will not be the mirror of those yielded in their inaugural season.
“They were both really close games (last year), and I think this season we’re a closer team and honestly, I think we have better chemistry on the field,” said junior captain Alyssa Bull. “I think if everyone comes ready to play and we do what we practice, we’ll come out on top.”
Aside from the statistics and the hours of preparation at practice, The Knights bring something even more powerful to the field this weekend — unwavering fortitude.
Senior captain Ali Stever expressed a collective confidence in the team’s capability not only regarding these next two games, but the fall season as a whole.
“I think even though Northwestern and Michigan are gonna be two of our toughest opponents, we as a team truly believe that, you know, if we stick to the game plan — if we come out and play hard and play together, there’s no team that we can’t beat," Stever said.
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