Rutgers tackles first Big Ten foe in No. 16 Iowa
The term “rookie” no longer applies.
In its sophomore season in the Big Ten, the Rutgers field hockey team looks to correct its past with No. 16 Iowa (4-3) today in battling out its first conference game of the season before taking on Missouri State less than 24 hours later.
The Scarlet Knights (4-1) make their first road trip, eager to take on the challenge.
“We’re really looking forward to going out and playing Iowa. They’re our first Big Ten match of the season, and the team’s definitely excited,” said head coach Meredith Civico. “I expect a lot of emotion and a lot of adrenaline. We’re just looking forward to a great competition. I expect it to just be a really good game of hockey.”
Taking a 3-0 shutout loss at the hands of the Hawkeyes in their first ever Big Ten game last season, the Knights are keen on proving that with the new year comes a new team.
This time, Rutgers expects to leave it all on the field.
“I think our performance last year wasn’t exactly what we wanted to put out there and they definitely walked off the field against them last year kind of feeling like that wasn’t our best hockey, and we didn’t put it all out there,” Civico said. “I think they’re just really looking forward to getting out there against them this year and just playing our game.”
The Knights head into the matchup against their first conference foe armed with early successes to reinforce their confidence.
Currently leading the Big Ten with four goals scored per game, Rutgers was handed its sole loss this season by No. 9 Virginia in a close 5-4 game Sept. 4.
Coming off of a dominant 5-2 win over Villanova last weekend, the Knights have scored at least three goals in every contest thus far. Senior forward Nicole Imbriaco maintains a 1.0 goal-per-game average that ranks 10th in the nation and ties for second in the Big Ten.
Within just five games, Rutgers has already kicked off the fall 2015 season on a very different note than its inaugural season in the conference during which it went 9-10 overall and 2-7 in conference play.
The influence that the team’s winning record has on the their energy and poise is invaluable to their outlook on tackling the challenge of their first conference rival.
“Having a 4-1 record right now going into our first Big Ten game is huge. We can’t let down whatsoever, but I think it’s a great positive start,” Imbriaco said. “I’m really excited. Last year was a tough one. We always know that they’re a really good team, but I think that we are just as good as they are. I think if we keep working hard as we’ve been these past couple games, it’s gonna go in our favor.”
Despite the effectiveness of their offensive overloads and their consistent overall cohesion, the Knights are still expecting a battle this weekend.
Trailing in the all-time series, 5-0-1, Rutgers looks for its first ever win against the Hawkeyes. So far this season, Iowa took two of its three loses to top five teams and enters today’s game on a two-game win streak in which they combine for a total score of 14-1.
Third-year Hawkeye Stephanie Norlander leads the league in shots, points and goals per game. Freshman teammate Makenna Grewe trails her in points per game and is the leader in assists.
Rutgers claims to be aware and prepared for the task ahead.
“They’re (Iowa) definitely gonna be a tough opponent. The physicality in the Big Ten is a huge factor. It’s just fas,t and you just really have to be on all the time,” said senior captain Ali Stever. “Against other opponents, you can kind of try to manage it but you can’t let up for one second against Big Ten opponents. If we just make sure that we are controlling the tempo of the game, that’ll be a huge tool for us to use against Iowa.”
With another foe to be faced the very next day, the game against Iowa will either contribute to the Knights’ momentum or serve as motivation for a rally. Missouri State maintains a 1-4 record on the season, mustering just seven goals in five games to compared to Rutgers’ 20.
Despite the differences between their two upcoming opponents, the team's mental approach remains unchanged. When asked about mindset heading into this weekend, Stever did not hesitate in her response.
“I think the same mentality we’ve been taking into every game, you know — make it work, work hard and work together," she said.
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