Rutgers aims to improve on first season in Big Ten
After a subpar season in 2015, the Rutgers women’s lacrosse team is ready to take on its second year in the Big Ten conference.
The lack of success can be partly attributed to the fact it was the Scarlet Knights' first season in the conference, a big jump from its previous conference — the Big East.
“Certainly the Big East has always been a tough conference, but top to bottom, the Big Ten is loaded with powerhouse programs, and the pace of play, physicality and level of skill was something we were not seeing on a daily basis," said head coach Laura Brand-Sias.
The Knights are letting last season serve as a rough wakeup call as to what type of level the Big Ten is. Rutgers was able to take a year of experience and work over the offseason with mindset of how hard they need to play in 2016.
“I think the girls are starting to understand with what type of physicality and pace we need to play to be competitive at this level,” Brand-Sias said.
Midfielder Kristin Kocher has high expectations for the Knights upcoming season in her last chance to play as a senior.
The senior believes the individual skills of her teammates could come together to create a formidable unit.
“I think that any player on our team that steps out on the field has the ability to do something and should be taken seriously," Kocher said. "We are not just a one-person team, and we have the chance to make a difference in order to get some wins."
Senior attacker Halley Barnes sees this season as an opportunity for Rutgers to shock everyone and to make a splash in the Big Ten. The Garnet Valley, Pennsylvania, native thinks the Knights will see some success by taking what they have worked on in practice and implementing it into each game, one half at a time.
Through this outlook, Barnes thinks Rutgers could far exceed expectations, perhaps even reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999, its only participation in the competition.
“I really think that we can make an impact, and even make the playoffs this year," Barnes said.
The Big Ten published its preseason poll, projecting the Knights to finish tied for last in the conference with fellow second-year Big Ten program Michigan. The Wolverines were Rutgers' first and only conference win last season.
Although it did not come as a surprise to the Knights, they plan to use it as motivation moving forward. Being seen as the underdog gives them a chance to show people how relentless the team can be, and that they should be taken seriously, according to Kocher.
After sitting her sophomore year as a redshirt, she scored 31 goals in the three years she was active.
Kocher, who represented Rutgers in the Big Ten's Players to Watch list along with fellow midfielders Kristina Dunphey and Amanda Casten, sees the list as a great honor and a surprise at the same time.
She noted that 2015 was more outstanding on defense than it was statistically on the attack, but that has not changed her mind set for the upcoming season.
“I am still going to be working hard for games to come,” Kocher said.
Prior to the start of the 2016 season, Rutgers also named a trio of seniors as its captains in senior defender Addington Elliot, senior defender Taylor Pennell and Barnes. On defense, Elliot started 17 games last season while picking up 14 ground balls.
Pennell, also on defense, is returning with the captaincy from 2015, where she collected 24 groundballs and caused seven turnovers.
Barnes started all 18 games at attack last season, scoring 20 goals, five of which coming in a single game against Monmouth.
The Knights open their season on the road against Villanova on Saturday, where they hope to get their season started off on the right foot against the Wildcats.
“We have a lot to prove, and we do not expect anyone to hand us anything,” Brand-Sias said.
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