Bond among seniors serves as big reason for Rutgers' success
The structure of any team or organization tends to put great responsibilities on the veterans who have been there the longest.
With new classes of athletes coming in each year in college sports, it is crucial to have leaders who can help usher in the new wave of teammates and show them the way on and off the field.
This is precisely what the senior class of the Rutgers women’s soccer team has been able to do this season.
The No. 12 Scarlet Knights (12-2-2, 5-2-2) are in the midst of another successful season under head coach Mike O’Neill, coming off a 1-0 Senior Day win over No. 9 Penn State.
O'Neill is proud of the depth his team is able to display in each match, but knows it all starts with his senior leaders.
“When I think of this senior class, I think of character, talent, accountability and family. That’s what they have built in four years’ time,” he said. “They all lead by example on and off the field, and the way they treat each other and their teammates is great. Rutgers University is a better place because they came here — every single one of them.”
The Knights held a senior luncheon prior to their game with Penn State, in which O’Neill and his staff reminisced about memories with each senior and what they have accomplished at Rutgers.
The senior class is led by captain defenders Erica Skroski and Maggie Morash, plus midfielder Hayley Katkowski.
Skroski was a 2014 Second Team All-Big Ten member and is 12th on the program’s all-time list for games started.
Katkowski is in her third year as a captain and recently passed the 2014 FIFA Women's World Cup Golden Ball Winner Carli Lloyd for 10th on the school’s all-time games started list.
Other senior standouts include midfielder Samantha Valliant, defender Brianne Reed, forward Rachel Cole, backs Cassidy Benintente and Erica Sousa, as well as goalkeeper Alana Jimenez.
Forward Cassie Inacio is also in her final year for the Knights, playing as a graduate student.
These players have grown together during their years on the Banks and have consistently found ways to win despite a coaching change and moving to different conferences.
“There’s just so many of us and it’s been a different atmosphere this year because we’ve all been here for four years, which is pretty rare,” Skroski said. “It’s our fourth year playing with each other, all 10 of us, including Cassie (Inacio). We’ve been here and striving for the same goals each year and just coming out here and believing in ourselves really goes a long way.”
With the regular season winding down and the Big Ten tournament coming up, the Knights know what is at stake.
These seniors have been part of teams that have earned at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament for the past three seasons — the only time that has been accomplished in school history.
They are hoping to guide their younger teammates to similar heights and beyond.
“We have a lot of confidence as a team and we know what we can do based on our experience,” Skroski said. “It’s a really good mix of players here from the veterans to the newcomers, and we are all really excited about the next few games.”
Sophomore forward Colby Ciarrocca leads the Knights with five goals on the season, including the game-winner against the Nittany Lions.
She has been especially successful of late and was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week for her performance over the weekend.
After transferring from Vanderbilt, she credits her senior teammates for helping her get acclimated to life at Rutgers on and off the field, with hopes it can lead to even more success down the stretch of the season.
“This senior class is awesome and they do so much for this program both on the field and off of it,” Ciarrocca said. “I really look up to each of them and I think it was awesome that we had such a great turnout for Senior Day and that we got the win. They all deserved it.”
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