Rutgers kicks off season with back-to-back wins at home
When the numbers on the scoreboard reflect the early morning practices, the days spent on the field instead of on the beach and the seemingly endless hours in the weight room, it’s all suddenly worth it.
The Rutgers field hockey team saw this payoff when it opened up the 2015 season with a win against Bucknell University for the second year in a row. The Bison, who were undefeated in the 2014 Patriot League regular season, were outscored by Rutgers 3-1 on Aug. 28.
This early success was only the beginning for the Scarlet Knights. The team went on to nab another victory less than 24 hours later in a dominating 4-0 win against Ball State.
Totaling seven goals in just two games through the opening weekend, Rutgers takes a 2-0 record to open the season, as well as the gratification of seeing its extensive efforts transformed into immediate results.
“It was just a great start to our season,” junior Rachel Yaney said. “I think that from preseason, we really translated everything that we’d been working in to the first two games. Having them back-to-back, we were able to fix what we needed to work on, talk about it and go over it and also reinforce what we did well.”
To begin the weekend, the Knights opened against the Bison with 20 minutes of equally dominant play before forward Nicole Imbriaco scored the first goal of the season when a collision between two Rutgers players in front of the cage left junior goalie Shevaun Hayes out of position.
Bucknell wasted no time in countering the Knights’ strong offense.
Within just more than a minute of Imbriaco’s goal, the Bison notched a goal of their own, tying the game again at 1-1. Despite Bucknell’s quick response, Rutgers was unphased and maintained its momentum.
It was Yaney who restored the Knights’ lead after netting a goal into the back post on an assist from sophomore midfielder Simrin Dhillon.
Senior captain Ali Stever went on to score an insurance goal in the final minutes of the game, pushing Rutgers to a 3-1 victory.
Returning to the Bauer Track/Field Hockey Complex the very next day to host another game, Rutgers maintained its collective tenacity against Ball State.
Tallying a total of eight penalty corners and outshooting the Cardinals, 23-5, the Knights combined offensive firepower with an impermeable defense to collect a 4-0 victory.
Imbriaco and Yaney saw repeat success, scoring the first two goals of the game once again with assists coming from junior defender Devon Freshnock and freshman Caitlin Nitschmann.
The third goal of the game came from Freshnock in the second half on a corner play, assisted by freshman Linde van Schaik. Kelly Hanna rounded out the Rutgers offense by scoring her first career goal off a deflection in the final minutes of the game, as the Knights took a 4-0 win.
Ball State did not manage a single shot on goal throughout the game despite two corners and junior goalkeeper Shevaun Hayes collected her first shutout of the season. The Melbourne, Australia, native now has three under her belt during her Rutgers career, totaling one in each of her three seasons as a Knight.
With two superior performances to kickoff the season, Rutgers gained not only a sound confidence in its ability as a unit, but also the experience of playing strong through two games in a short time span.
With back-to-back Big Ten games lurking throughout the later parts of the season, familiarity with such a demanding schedule is crucial as the fall heads underway.
“That was kind of the first time we’ve ever played back-to-back like that, which is really tough, but I think from how we played you couldn’t see that at all,” Imbriaco said. “We’re a high-pressure team and when we have that high energy, that’s when we do best. I think being able to go out there and just kind of work as hard as we can during every single minute we were out there really made the difference because we were winning those 50/50 balls and we were able to outperform both of the teams.”
The Knights have established that they have something to prove this season and seem well on their way in doing so. With preparation efforts and skill set clearly evident, Rutgers also has a sharp competitive edge from something that can’t be taught on the field — determination.
Head coach Meredith Civico sees the team’s energy as playing a crucial role in the successful outcomes reached thus far, as a cohesive dynamic propels the Knights toward gratifying results.
“Winning those first two games is always a really positive way to start and I’m very excited for them,” Civico said. “They are a group that is hungry — they want to win and they’ve really been working hard as a team. It takes every player on the field connecting and playing well to get the ball in the goal. I think the take away is we’re really translating the parts of our game that we’ve been training and working hard at improving into our match play. And that’s really, as a coach, all you can ask for.”
Two early victories have given Rutgers a taste of success that is profoundly addictive. With their momentum moving in a positive direction from the very start, the Knights prefer to let their actions speak for themselves as they strive to establish themselves as a team that deserves their place in the Big Ten.
“I think it sets the standard high. Having those last two wins, we’re not going to settle for anything less, so I think starting off the season so strong, we’re motivated to keep working for that,” Imbriaco said. “It kind of makes it all worth it and makes you keep working because you know that there’s so many possibilities for the future games. I really have a good feeling that this kind of set us in the right direction.”
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