Rutgers sets sights on Spartans, Bobcats
Starting strong and finishing strong is simple — the time in between is the tricky part.
The Rutgers field hockey team looks to build positive momentum midway through its season this weekend on a road trip out to East Lansing, Michigan.
The Scarlet Knights (5-4, 0-3) take on Big Ten rival Michigan State (3-7, 0-3) Friday at 3 p.m. ET, before getting right back to it against Ohio (4-4) on Sunday.
The stage for a Big Ten win is set.
Both Rutgers and Michigan State are yet to capture a conference victory this season, matching with a record of 0-3. Friday marks a change in momentum for one team and a continuation of struggles for another.
Head coach Meredith Civico stressed team cohesion as a powerful factor that will dictate the success of the Knights not only this weekend, but in every game remaining this fall.
“I think we have to really look at ourselves, look how we’re preparing individually and coming out and connecting as a team,” Civico said. “As soon as we step on the field for a game, we’ve got to be connecting with our teammates, we have to be talking, we have to be communicating.”
For Rutgers, team chemistry is as important as skill execution on the field. In taking on Michigan State, the Knights will need strong implementation of both to come out on top.
The Spartans have taken conference losses to Ohio State, No. 8 Maryland and Penn State on top of four non-conference defeats. The Spartans currently ride on a five-game losing skid.
On the other hand, the Knights are coming off of a tough weekend of their own. The last time Rutgers took the field, it fell at home to two Big Ten foes in No. 14 Northwestern and No. 18 Michigan.
Despite the latest losses suffered at the hands of arduous conference competition, the experience allowed the Knights to gain insight into the areas that need improvement.
With a week of training under its belt, Rutgers is eager to capitalize on the opportunity to translate the lessons learned into its upcoming match play.
“I think being disciplined on the field and working together on the field is really important — and playing the entire 70 minutes,” said junior forward Rachel Yaney. “I think we’re gonna come out more as a team instead of individually because the only way we’re going to win games is to attack as a team.”
So far this season, Rutgers fell only to ranked opponents. This is no coincidence.
Collectively as a team, the Knights average 3.33 goals and 9.78 points per game.
Individually, senior forward Nicole Imbriaco ranks fifth nationally in goals per game and takes second in the Big Ten in points per game and goals per game. The Clark, New Jersey, native leads Rutgers with 22 points in nine games and in conference play, she is tied for the No. 1 slot in goals per game.
The Knights also have a formidable threat defending their goal cage. Junior Shevaun Hayes is the leader in saves in conference play. But the Spartans have a solid back line of their own with sophomore Katie Miller leading the Big Ten in saves per game within conference play.
Though it is sure to be a battle at Ralph Young Field on Friday, Rutgers has reason to be optimistic about this conference matchup.
The Spartans sit at the bottom of the rankings in points, goals and assists in Big Ten play. Michigan State has one lone home victory under its belt out of five contests and Rutgers looks to start the weekend strong by continuing this visiting team trend.
With the incentive to change the momentum from their latest contests, it will be important for the Knights to come out with both fiery aggression and composure in performance to get the results they want.
“I think we have to be more physical, I think we have to be kind of more in-your-face, if you will, with our opponents,” Civico said. “We cant back down — we have to tackle strong, we have to attack strong … We’ve really got to train our decision-making and our skill execution under extreme pressure.”
In a quick turnaround during their double-header weekend, Rutgers will take on Mid-American Conference member Ohio for a neutral-site game on Sunday.
While the Bobcats have had inconsistent outcomes throughout the fall so far, they enter into the matchup against the Knights with a recent 4-2 win over Ball State under their belt — the same team Rutgers shutout, 4-0, in its opening weekend.
Ohio only faced one other Big Ten opponent this season. The Bobcats took a close 3-2 loss to in-state rival Ohio State despite edging the Buckeyes in both penalty corners and shots.
Though Ohio doesn’t pose the same threats as conference rivals, Rutgers knows better than to underestimate any team on its schedule.
Regardless of the opposing team, the Knights look to be relentless from the moment the clock starts ticking to set the pace for the game and solidify positive team stamina on the field.
“We need to take control of the game. The first ten minutes has got to be our strongest,” Hayes said. “It gives us confidence, even in the back to the forwards, that we’ve got this, we’re in this game, nothings gonna get past us — that’s sorta the mentality.”
With its next two games, Rutgers has a prime opportunity to recover from its recent defeats and get back into the win column.
In terms of the team’s objectives moving forward, Yaney kept it simple.
“Give it all you got, leave it all on the field, work together,” she said.
For updates on the Rutgers field hockey team, follow @Kaylee_Pofahl and @TargumSports on Twitter.