Selfless captains lead Rutgers to turnaround season
Team captains Alyssa Bull and Devon Freshnock have spearheaded Rutgers field hockey into one of the program's most successful seasons since joining the Big Ten Conference.
The Scarlet Knights (9-7, 2-5) have captured their second bid to the Big Ten Tournament in program history during their third year in the conference, an incredible comeback from failing to capture a Big Ten win and missing out on postseason play a year ago.
But team’s humble leaders would argue that the credit is due to not just to the duo with captain bands around their shin guards, but to all eight members of this year’s dynamic senior class.
“We have a lot of leaders and upperclassmen on this team," Bull said. "I would say we have eight captains on this team honestly. Every single upperclassmen takes on that role."
Both Freshnock and Bull have played key roles for the Knights since their rookie years.
Freshnock has been a starter on Rutgers’ defensive end during all four of her years on the Banks and has maintained an offensive presence with six goals on the season that ties her for second-most on the team this year.
A season-ending injury during her sophomore year resulted in a medical redshirt for Bull but the fifth-year senior is now at the tail end of her third year as team captain. During her four years of eligibility, the Oakville, Ontario, Canada, native has started at both the midfield and forward lines and was honored as the Big East Freshman of the Year in 2012.
Within a large class of eight seniors, head coach Meredith Civico said Bull and Freshnock each differentiated themselves through their actions to earn the distinguished role in their final season.
“(Bull) has basically been a staple in the Rutgers leadership role for three years and I think she brings so much, she’s really a no-brainer,” Civico said. “I think Devon kind of rose to the top in the spring. I think we really wanted to see who would step up and who could really fill Ali (Stever)’s shoes after last season. I thought Devon was just so solid all spring and she’s such a leader by example — I think that’s probably her biggest strength.”
A powerful presence in attack penalty corners has propelled Freshnock to rank sixth in the Big Ten in both shots and shots per game. She's also ranked third on the team with 17 points on the season.
With an assist in the team’s 2-0 victory against Richmond on Sunday, Bull now sits in 7th place in the Knights all-time record books with 20 on her career.
Pretty numbers and statistics aside, Civico recalls two instances this season when her captains truly emulated their roles on the team.
“Just thinking about moments this season — Alyssa’s goal in the overtime with St. Joe’s. There was no way she was gonna let our team walk off the field without a win and you just knew that from her. I think that’s so incredible as a captain and as a coach to just know that she’s somebody, when the game’s on the line, will step up and execute,” Civico said. “And then Devon, equally, in Ohio State — we got that stroke to equalize and make it 1-1. There was no doubt in my mind that Devon was the player that needed to take that stroke because that game was on the line … I shouted at her immediately, 'Devon!' She just nodded and stepped right up and scored. As soon as she scored that goal, it was our game,” Civico said.
In both the St. Joe's and Ohio State game, Rutgers was able to come out with the outcome in critical moments when their captains stepped up and took control.
But their leadership extends far beyond the white lines of the turf.
"Coming in it’s a big difference because of just time management and the way field hockey is played, it’s much faster, so I think they just prepared me and they’re always there for me no matter what,” said freshman starting defender Alanna Gollotto. “On and off the field, they really show what leadership is. During games, they’re the ones who are talking the most and they demand the best out of their teammates.”
The Knights will play its last regular season game this weekend before taking on tournament competition the first weekend in November. With the season coming to a close, the final chapters of Bull and Freshnock's tenure as captains will be written in the books.
For Bull particularly, it is the conclusion of a long, decorated journey. Her sister, Jenna, who helped recruit Alyssa to Rutgers, was a two-time MVP for Rutgers during her junior and senior year back in 2009-10.
With the bittersweet finale on the horizon, Bull is adamant on making the most of it.
“It’s weird, it didn’t really hit me at Senior Day until afterwards when I was saying goodbye to my sister because she kind of went through the same thing and she was just telling me take it all in because it is coming to a close," Bull said. "For me, it’s been five years of my life and it’s been 11 years of my family’s life with Rutgers field hockey so it’s a really big deal but it’s nice to know that we’re not done ... I’m glad I’ve had this extra year with this team."
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