Rutgers remains hopeful despite disappointing first half of season
As the players on the Rutgers men’s soccer team walk towards the practice field, Marvin Gaye’s "Let's Get It On" echoes from the adjacent football field. Smiles, laughter and chatter are seen and heard from a majority of the players.
The athletes then walk through the gate to the field and drop their belongings. Some sit and tie shoes, fix pads or even take a breather, and others dribble a soccer ball with teammates. It is 8:50 a.m. and practice starts in ten minutes, but that does not stop the oncoming of players from messing around with the ball and catching up with teammates.
If one were to pass by and take a glimpse of the soccer team Tuesday morning, you would assume the team has a winning record with hopes of finishing the season strong.
But that is not the case.
Unfortunately for the Scarlet Knights, a win has yet to be accomplished this season. Through nine games this season, Rutgers is 0-8-1.
Despite this, the Knights are not looking at the glass half empty. They still have hopes of finishing the season strong – better yet, they have confidence to win the Big Ten Tournament.
Head coach Dan Donigan shows that confidence, and he feels the team's competition has set them up well for the rest of the season.
“I think, without a doubt, there’s no question (the early schedule prepared his team for the future),” Donigan said. “We played the two best teams from a record and ranking standpoint very competitively, so there’s no reason why we can’t do that against anybody in the country."
The good news for Rutgers is the level of competition it will be facing for the remaining seven games doesn’t come close to the competition it has already faced.
The Knights' previous games have been against teams with a combined record of 42-16-8 while their next seven opponents garner a combined record of 23-34-11.
But Donigan will not be looking at the upcoming games as easy wins.
“All these teams are good,” Donigan said. “Michigan is a very talented team within the conference, Princeton’s a very good in-state rival, Northwestern is a very legitimate team. Everybody’s legitimate, everybody’s capable. All these games are gonna be incredibly challenging, just like the past nine have been.”
One of the struggles for the 2016 team and a reason why Rutgers has not replicated last year's success is senior goalkeeper David Greczek’s drastically higher goals-against-average.
The Fairfield, New Jersey, native is having his roughest year on the Banks statistically. After compiling a 1.23 GAA his freshman year, a 2.05 GAA his sophomore year and a 1.38 his junior year, Greczek’s senior numbers are an astonishing 2.56 so far.
But all of the blame can't be put on him. Although the team is still without a win, Greczek is willing to keep his morale high and do whatever it may be to keep his team motivated.
“You guys can see how passionate I am,” Greczek said. “How I scream on the guys, how I get on them and also how I encourage them. It’s just a matter of as a leader staying with that attitude and not taking a step down. Because once you take a step down, things start to fall apart and if I have to be the guy that holds the bridge on my shoulder, then I’ll do that.”
Some believe that the rigorous schedule the Knights have endured will help them as the season progresses. With seven regular season games remaining, Rutgers' ambitions remain high.
Junior defender Niel Guzman echoed the same sentiment. He said he feels the team is poised to make a late-season run.
“I feel that with these close games against these top teams, we can come into the post-season with a good run,” Guzman said. “We still have a weaker schedule the second half of the season, so hopefully we get some wins out of it.”
Along with the experience they have gained through playing top ranked teams, the Knights seem to finally be running on all cylinders with all of the new players that had to fill in due to this season's injuries. It took some time, but Donigan explained that his team is comfortable and happy with the guys they have playing.
“It’s always a process, but quite honestly, these guys know what we’re dealing with,” Donigan said. “We know the personnel right now. We are happy with the guys that are in the starting lineup and the guys that are coming off the bench. Right now I think everyone’s bought into it, and it's pretty good for where we are.”
The end of the season is near, but there is still time for Rutgers to cap off the season with important wins.
“Right now they have resilience and they have a very balanced attitude and an understanding of what they’re dealing with," Donigan said. "It’s really impressive because most teams would have thrown in the towel and most teams would have bailed and not been in some of these games that we are actually very competitive in. So I give them a lot of credit for their resilience.”
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