Seniors propel program forward for future success for Rutgers
Many people hope to leave the places they go better than how they found it.
As the Rutgers field hockey seniors walked off the field at Bauer Track/Field Hockey Complex after the final home game of the regular season, recollection of the turbulent changes and emerging progressions during their shared time in Piscataway laid bare before them.
These Scarlet Knights have seen the program through four years of momentous changes during which it has been their responsibility to set the precedence for the program’s revitalization.
When Rutgers joined eight other prestigious field hockey programs as members of the elite Big Ten conference last year, many saw the Knights as a team standing on the shoulders of giants.
This class of seniors, however, saw it as the chance to grow and prove their stature.
The veteran squad of midfielder Ali Stever, defender Carley Hawkins and forwards Katie Champion and Nicole Imbriaco has spearheaded their team through two years in one of the foremost field hockey conferences in the nation.
Though it has been an uphill battle in making a name for Rutgers and getting successful outcomes against formidable Big Ten opponents — the team is yet to capture a conference win this season — these Knights remain resilient to adversity and sanguine about being a part of a program steadily on the rise.
“When you go onto a team that’s building a foundation and building a culture, I think it’s hard in that you go through these games and you don’t get the outcome that you want but I think just getting through that process is really cool to be a part of because you’re building this foundation for this program,” Imbriaco said.
Throughout their time on the Banks, this squad has combined for 221 games with a total of 40 goals and 102 points between them. Leaving behind an unprecedented mark on the Rutgers field hockey, the quartet was honored on Senior Day Sunday Oct. 18 to celebrate their many triumphs.
After scoring her 20th career goal against Penn State, Champion is now tied for 10th on the Rutgers all-time leaderboard in both goals and points. Named a Big Ten Player to Watch this season, she leads the team with 52 total points on her career and 102 shots.
Hawkins has remained a solid force on the Knights backline, particularly throughout this season. Earning a start in all 15 games, the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, native plays an integral part in the Rutgers defensive unit that has shutout opponents on two different occasions this season.
Imbriaco has led an explosive senior season with three consecutive multi-goal performances. This year alone, she has set career-highs in every offensive category and currently leads the team with 11 goals and 25 points on the season.
Imbriaco also places among the top five in goals, goals per game, points and points per game in Big Ten standings to complement a top 15 ranking in the NCAA in goals per game.
Named captain prior to the start of the season, Stever has been a true two-way player for Rutgers making consistent contributions on both the Knights’ defending circle and in their attacking 25. With a notable offensive presence particularly through this fall, she has set career-highs in both assists and points while also tying her career-high in goals.
Also recognized on Rutgers’ Senior Day was midfielder Alyssa Bull, who was an original member of this year’s senior class. A season-ending knee injury suffered at the start of her sophomore year led Bull to redshirt but she has nevertheless endured the four year journey of donning a Knights uniform with her senior teammates and played an essential part in contributing to the team’s growth both on and off the field.
After head coach Meredith Civico took over the reigns in 2012, her first group of freshman made the commitment not just to Rutgers, but to the vision she had for her program.
The Knights have won at least nine games in each season under Civico’s coaching and while the process of building up the program in still underway, the team moves forward on the projected path to becoming a conference powerhouse as its development steadily continues.
Numbers and statistics aside, much of the success Rutgers has reached so far can be credited to the team dynamic that has been fostered through the passion of its veteran leadership.
“I think the culture and the environment we’ve established with this group of players is remarkable and so much of that I credit to the seniors this year,” Civico said. “They love this program and they’re so proud of it. The group of them would do anything for their teammates and for the program which is really exciting to see.”
There is great sacrifice that comes with the decision to spearhead a new venture rather than joining the ranks of long-held traditions.
For the senior Knights, the rewards of their decision have proved to far exceed the risk.
“It’s definitely a rollercoaster at some points but it’s exciting to be a part of it,” Stever said. “I think that if the program continues the way that it’s going and they continue to fix things, it’s gonna be awesome to say that I was a part of that — that I helped them get to where they are in the future.”
So much of Rutgers’ progression is dependent on the atmosphere that has been cultivated and subsists day in and day out within the team.
As this year’s senior Knights move forward in their athletic, academic and professional careers and the field hockey program continues in its evolution, change will be a constant factor but the dual influence they’ve had on one another will remain.
“They’re such a good group and I’m really proud of them all and really grateful for everything they’ve done for the program,” Civico said. “I think a lot of it has to do with just the quality of people that they are. They are just truly selfless. They’ve been instrumental in creating the environment and the culture that is Rutgers field hockey. That’s big moving forward.”
The impact of these seniors and the enhancements they’ve prompted is pervading not only to their underclassmen teammates but to potential future Knights as well.
Excitement surrounding the Rutgers field hockey now grows from the seed planted by this distinguished class of athletes.
“There’s high school athletes that want to come here because of the team and because of the culture and the chemistry and they’ve been a huge part of that. They’re a truly special group,” Civico said. “I think they’re some shining examples in there of what happens when you work hard and you don’t give up and you keep pushing.”
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