Rutgers hopes for familiar result against former Big East foe Villanova
Feelings of excitement surround the Rutgers women’s lacrosse team as it begins its season on the road against Villanova Friday.
The Scarlet Knights open their second season in the Big Ten against the same former Big East conference rivals as last year.
“I’m definitely excited to start (the) season," said senior midfielder Kristin Kocher. "We have had all week to prepare, watch film and even play in a few scrimmages this past Saturday."
The Medford, New Jersey, native also expressed her enthusiasm towards the camaraderie of the team. She said it felt great to see the things they have been practicing during the preseason get put to work in scrimmages.
Head coach Laura Brand-Sias shared her player's eagerness for the season opener as she watched how the team prepared for the game.
Entering her 14th season at the helm, Brand-Sias knows preparing for the season as a whole rather than the opponent in a season opener is the more effective route. She used the week to fine tune her own players' games without spending much time on scouting the Wildcats.
“The nice thing about game one is that you are not going into a week where you are totally focused on your opponent because neither team has played yet,” Brand-Sias said.
Senior attacker Halley Barnes believes Rutgers will succeed against Villanova if it translates what it has been doing in practice into the game. The Knights look to bring their heart and high level enthusiasm they played with in their preseason scrimmages to Villanova.
“As long as we focus on our team and the things we do well, we should be fine this weekend,” Barnes said.
Individual efforts will be the key for the Knights getting off to a good start against the Wildcats.
“It comes down to winning draws and 50-50 balls, and being smart with the ball when we do have the chance to go on the attack,” Kocher said.
Kocher attributed the success Rutgers had in its scrimmages to capitalizing on their fast breaks and taking smart shots. The Knights plan to take advantage of Villanova’s defensive breakdowns, while minimizing the amount of mistakes they make in their own defensive end.
The Wildcats feature two players selected for the All-Big East team last season in attacker Jackie Froccaro and defenseman Sam Scarfogliero.
Froccaro led Villanova with 49 goals in 2015, enough to earn Big East Attacker of the Year honors.
“Right off the bat, she’s got size, speed and really likes to get the ball and take it to the cage, so we’re really going to have to slide to her early,” Brand-Sias said of Froccaro.
Scarfogliero led the Wildcats with 34 ground balls and was responsible for causing 27 turnovers last year.
Rutgers will have to adjust to the way the Wildcats set their defensive schemes. The Knights have been preparing for what Brand-Sias described as "a mix of backer zone and man to man defenses."
The Knights aren't too concerned with Villanova's All-Big East caliber talent, remembering the success they had in last season's 10-8 season opening win.
“Those two players were in their lineup last year and we saw success against them, so I am not super worried about them,” Barnes said.
The Garnet Valley, Pennsylvania, native has particularly positive memories of Rutgers first win as a member of the Big Ten. Barnes scored within a minute in either half, scoring 44 seconds after the opening face-off and 23 seconds after the start of the second half.
Barnes and her team look to repeat the success of last season. Rutgers hopes to have its preparation and attitude carry into their season opener with full effect on Friday against the Wildcats. With those two key factors, excitement continues to loom around the players and coaches as they get ready to get the season started off on a good note.
“I do not think I have ever been more excited to play a game in my life,” Barnes said.
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