Rutgers faces No. 3 Maryland, only this time for their seasons
This time, it’s all or nothing.
The Rutgers field hockey team opens up play in the Big Ten Tournament Thursday afternoon, going head-to-head with the No. 1 seeded team and championship host, Maryland.
It will be the second time the Scarlet Knights (9-8, 2-6) face the Terrapins (15-3, 7-1) within the past week, having fallen to the No. 3 ranked team by 4-2 in their final regular season game last weekend.
Thursday’s match is an elimination game. Rutgers, ranked lowest out of the eight teams in the tournament, really doesn't have anything to lose.
“At this point, it’s do or die … We’re gonna show them that they haven’t seen our best game yet,” said senior forward Kimberly Jevic. “If I have to get carried off in a stretcher, that’s fine, I don’t care … I’m walking off the field with nothing left because it’s all gonna be left on the field. ... I think the whole team is on that bandwagon. We all wanna just go balls to the wall.”
In their second ever appearance in the conference championship, the Knights are armed with several advantages despite a low ranking and a menacing quarterfinal opponent. The team was able to practice on the host field last weekend, something no other team in the tournament gets the privilege of doing, and is fresh off a game against the conference-leading Terps.
In last weekend’s game, Rutgers did well in holding it’s own against the top-five team on the other side of the field. Senior forward Rachel Yaney got the Knights on the board first with an unassisted goal just more than five minutes into the first half. Maryland soon responded, capitalizing on a penalty corner less than five minutes later and the teams matched at 1-1 going into the half.
A trick play by the Terps caught Rutgers off guard in the opening seconds of the second frame and Maryland stole the momentum from there, following up with three insurance goals. The Knights didn’t respond until the final minutes of the game with the team’s leading goal scorer, freshman Nikki Santore, notching an unassisted goal to cut the deficit to two.
Rutgers failed to force any attack penalty corners last weekend, a fault that will be important for the team to correct this time around. Three-time captain Alyssa Bull, who was recently named Second Team All-Big Ten, said that set pieces are a big focus heading into the rematch.
“I think we definitely wanna generate more attack. We talked a lot this week about how we got in their circle and had five shots on goal and two of them were goals so if we are generating more attack, we can score,” the senior midfielder said. “If we just leave it all out on the field, play a full 70 minutes and work hard for what we want, anything can happen. We can beat anybody and having that belief is what’s gonna get us there … Go big or go home. Literally, Big.”
This year’s Knights have seen glimpses of the success they’re capable of when they bring all the pieces of the puzzle together. The team captured the biggest upset in program history against No. 15 Iowa and has not seen a margin of defeat greater than three all season.
For Rutgers, now more than ever, it’s about execution.
“There’s no question — we’ve got to play our best game of hockey … I think (the team) knows that they can play with the best. There’s no question that Maryland’s a top team in the country and they’re a team looking to win a national championship this year. I don’t know if they’re expecting the Scarlet Knights that are about to show up,” said head coach Meredith Civico. “No fear, no hesitation — we can respect our opponent, but we can’t be afraid to just get after them. Every team has weaknesses. I think it’s about exploiting those weaknesses and for us, just relying and making sure that we play to our strengths.”
The Terps enter the tournament riding on an eight-game winning streak, led by the Big Ten Athlete of the Year, Welma Luus, and the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Grace Balsdon.
Despite its volume, the upset-minded Rutgers is remaining deaf to the noise surrounding its next opponent. The focus remains on making sure that after 70 minutes of regulation play, the Knights have proven their place in the win column.
“It’s not pressure unless you let it get to you ... In my mind, we have nothing to lose in this game and all the pressure’s really on Maryland,” Civico said. “They won the Big Ten regular season and the pressure’s on them to win the Tournament. For us, I think we’re just going in and we are an underdog, there’s no doubt about it, but I think there’s something to be said for the underdog, especially in this situation. We’re playing to win.”
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