Rutgers continues improvements throughout outdoor season
Coming into its third year within the Big Ten Conference, the Rutgers women’s track and field team had admittedly tempered expectations for the 2017 indoor and outdoor seasons. Recruiting has been only moderately successful over the past several years, and the team has yet to effectively make the transition to becoming a steady competitor against its peers within the Big Ten.
In the Big Ten, it’s easy to see where the “big dogs” are on the totem pole — and where the Scarlet Knights are not. One only needs to rewind to late February in Geneva, Ohio, where Rutgers competed in its third Big Ten Indoor Championship.
In 2015, entering its first year in the Big Ten, the Knights earned a respectable 12th place at the Big Ten Indoor Championship with 24 team points, placing just ahead of Iowa. The following year, Rutgers progressed for 25 team points, good for 10th place overall.
This season though, the Knights failed to qualify for a team placement for the first time in its nascent Big Ten history. The team was led at that meet by Bryanna Grant and senior Sarah Robbie, who both placed 10th in the 800-meter and triple jump, respectively — the only top-10 efforts from Rutgers of the championship meet.
This year’s champion, Penn State, earned three titles for 96.5 team points after place in third place the previous two years.
Despite the performance in Geneva, the indoor half of the season saw some individual success from athletes such as graduate athlete Paige Senatore, senior Sarah Robbie, junior Bria Saunders and sophomore Rhonda Rogombe — all Knights who had earned new personal bests. Saunders highlighted the group by setting a school-record at the Beantown Challenge in the 300-meter and was the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC) Indoor Championship’s Most Outstanding Performer.
In the outdoor portion of the 2017 campaign, the Knights have continued to see further concrete progression and grittiness out of both track and field athletes.
Rogombe battled back from an injury that sidelined her for over a month after a productive indoor season, where she set a personal-best in the long jump. She most recently took the high jump at the Metropolitan Outdoor Championships and qualified to jump at the historic Penn Relays.
Senior Katherine Johnston is a student-athlete who personified the Knights’ tenacity this season. After several straight top-three efforts in the javelin throw, she most recently took home two consecutive javelin titles, including a personal-best, in two separate meets and, like Rogombe, qualified to throw at the Penn Relays.
The team highlight of the outdoor season was undoubtedly the 2017 Metropolitan Outdoor Championships, where the Knights took the team championship for the first time since 2012. Rutgers earned a commanding 190 team points, ahead of last year’s champion St. John’s, who placed second with 162 team points.
For head coach James Robinson, the team’s development process has been what’s most important for making a competitive product in the Big Ten.
“As the year has progressed, (the team) has gotten better. Athletes are progressing, PR-ing, and breaking school records. We’re looking for people to rise up, and hopefully rise to the top of the conference. We’re looking to see some of those hopes come to fruition,” Robinson said. “I think everyone has PR’d in at least one event, thus far. Every year, that’s what we look for. I can’t worry about the outcome, because I know the process is good. (We’re) plugging away at it and getting better each time.”
Robinson detailed his high expectations for the Knights over the next few seasons, as he hopes the team continues to make its presence felt within the Big Ten and beyond.
“In the next couple of years, we want to get to the middle of the pack at least in the Big Ten. We were at a disadvantage coming into the conference (initially), but we’ve already proven we can produce in conference championships,” he said.
Ultimately, Robinson realizes the need for sustained recruiting is a factor that will make or break the team going forward.
“It’s a matter of pulling together more talented athletes. You need athletes who can come in and make an immediate impact in the Big Ten Conference. It takes a little bit of time to build our brand. Having that Big Ten exposure now has definitely helped us with recruits, but we have ways to go,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to reach the middle of the conference in the next two or three years. From there, we can think about competing for a Big Ten team title. For now, we can compete and win individual events and relays. We have a lot of positions to fill across the events. We have some answers here right now, but we sure need a whole lot more in order to be consistent.”
For updates on the Rutgers women's track and field team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.