Rutgers eyes repeat of last season's success
It is seldom the objective for history to repeat itself. For the Rutgers field hockey team, this weekend sanctions one such rare instance.
Flashing back to their inaugural season in the conference, the Scarlet Knights (6-5, 0-4) captured their first Big Ten win in program history at Bauer Track/Field Hockey Complex when they defeated Ohio State by a final score of 3-2.
Now in its sophomore season, the program's conference victory pursuit continues with a matchup against Buckeyes (6-4, 2-1) on Friday posing the next opportunity to attain it.
Despite coming tantalizingly close to a Big Ten triumph last weekend against Michigan State, Rutgers ultimately fell to the Spartans 5-4 after a fierce double overtime battle.
With a 2-1 win over Ohio just two days later to cushion the blow, the Knights look to maintain a consistent spot in the win column as their next road trip heads underway.
Venturing from Columbus to Oxford, it will be another doubleheader weekend for Rutgers as it takes on Miami (Ohio) (7-6, 2-0) Sunday afternoon following its match with the Buckeyes.
Though the Knights are adamant about staging a strong rebound performance, the competition this weekend will not take defeat easily.
“They’re gonna be two solid opponents,” said head coach Meredith Civico. “Ohio State, they’ve won two games so far in Big Ten play and it’s a big game for us. We’ve got to come out, we’ve got to get on the board early on, we’ve got to attack in the first half and then second half, we’ve got to come out and up our energy even more.”
In hosting Rutgers, Ohio State carries a staggered momentum after taking its first conference defeat last weekend, a 5-2 loss to No. 8 Maryland. The Buckeyes maintained a clean slate in Big Ten play prior to their match against the Terrapins, edging both Penn State and Michigan State by a 2-1 score.
With Miami (Ohio) boasting an undefeated record in Mid-American Conference play and a solid backline that is anchored by Alysa Xavier — who currently maintains a .783 save percentage and has five total shutouts on the season — the opposition the Knights face this weekend will not waver with the differentiation in conference and non-conference play.
But regardless, Rutgers has eyes, first and foremost, on eliminating the zero from its current Big Ten record.
“The priority is Big Ten right now, and that’s where we’ll focus our energy,” Civico said. “That’s where we’ll really, as coaches, look to prepare our team — first for that game. You know, it’s really a one game at a time mentality and right now, that Ohio State game is the most important game on our schedule.”
As the Knights undertake the second half of their season, they can look back on the previous successes of this fall to reinforce both individual and team confidence.
Collectively, Rutgers has an edge over both Ohio State and Miami (Ohio) in goals scored, goals per game average, shots per game and penalty corners.
Senior forward Nicole Imbriaco paces the Knights offensively with 11 goals and 25 points on the season. The Clark, New Jersey, native is also the runner up in Big Ten standings in both goals per game and points per game.
Rutgers has built a strong foundation throughout the season so far, but every game, nevertheless, reveals areas of improvement. After a week of practice centered on honing these skills, the Knights are eager to execute and earn favorable results.
“We’re all really excited. I think we’re hungry for a win,” said senior defender Carley Hawkins. “We’ve taken the things that we didn’t do well last weekend and really focused on it. I think (we have to) just give it our all every minute, every second — just work for each other. I think if we’re working hard for 70 minutes that we’ll get the outcome.”
Capitalizing on this next opportunity for a conference win is crucial for Rutgers in solidifying a standing in the Big Ten.
Although they are just over midway through their fall season, the Knights are treating each matchup as a postseason game.
“Championship mentality,” said junior defender Elyse Broderick said of where her mind is at heading into the Ohio State game. “I think this is a really important game to set us in getting into the Big Ten Championship. It’s crucial to win so that way we’re not lagging behind. We’ve got to make this game — one step at a time.”
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