Rutgers finishes with its best Big Ten record, moves into next season with bright outlook
It has been quite the year for the Rutgers women’s lacrosse team, such that the future looks brighter than it ever has since Rutgers joined the Big Ten.
The Scarlet Knights finished the season with an 8-8 record, their best record and most wins since 2014, when the team went 9-9 in its last season in the Big East Conference.
“We’re obviously disappointed in the way our season ended and wish we were still competing at this point in the season,” said head coach Laura Brand-Sias. “I think we have made significant progress this year and over the last couple of years in the Big Ten. The foundation is strong, so we are really focusing on the positive things that came out of this year.”
Since joining the Big Ten during the 2014-2015 season, the Knights struggled from the get go. In its inaugural season, Rutgers went just 2-16, including just one conference win over Michigan, a team in just its second season ever. Although the Knights improved last year, they still were substantially under .500, going 6-12, but they did pick up two conference wins, both over ranked Ohio State teams.
This season, in just their third year in the Big Ten, the Scarlet Knights raised their level of play significantly. The Knights added another two conference wins, while also taking down then-No. 18 James Madison in non-conference play.
“Barring some injuries that we wish hadn’t happened, we were in a good spot throughout the season, so it’s just unfortunate that things ended the way that they did,” Brand-Sias said.
Rutgers certainly had its shares of highs and lows throughout the season, but overall should be happy with the progress it showed.
The Knights kicked things off in February, going 2-2 in the month by picking up hard fought wins against Monmouth and Lafayette, while taking losses from Temple and Delaware.
March was by far the hottest time of the year for the Scarlet Knights, who went 5-2 in the month, including winning five of the last six games. Both losses came to ranked opponents in then-No. 10 Penn and No. 9 Penn State, while picking up the ranked win over JMU and their first conference win of the season against Ohio State.
The month of April held two significant things for the Knights' season, a swan song for their graduating senior class and their toughest five game schedule to date. Rutgers suffered losses to three ranked opponents in that span, including to No. 1 Maryland, who made light work of the Knights on Senior Day.
Rutgers ended its season losers of four of its last five, inevitably missing out on the 2017 Big Ten Tournament with a loss in the final game of the season to Johns Hopkins.
The Knights certainly had some highlight performances over the year, seemingly mixed between all different graduating classes of the team.
“I feel that of the last four years here, this was one of our best seasons,” said senior midfielder Kristina Dunphey. “To see this program go in an upward spiral is a really cool thing to go through. Even though we didn’t get the result we wanted, we have a lot of ups to look at this season and will be a building season for next year.”
Dunphey paced the Knights this year, leading the team in overall points with 43 points, which combined her team-leading 31 goals and her 12 assists. Dunphey didn’t always start games, sometimes being used as a spark off the bench, but she certainly knew how to finish them.
Dunphey joined the 100-point club this year, along with fellow senior team captain attacker Amanda Turturro. Turturro led the Knights in assists this season with 18 and was second in total points with 38.
“The team will keep moving in the right direction,” Turturro said. “We have great girls that will fill the spots of girls who are graduating.”
Rutgers has a strong returning group that are already preparing for next season, led by junior Nicole Kopyta, who was second in goals for the Knights this year with 24.
Additional familiar faces returning are juniors Kerri Puckhaber, Bianca Dente and Paige Paratore, sophomores Abbey Brooks and Dakota Pastore and freshman Samantha Budd.
“I have faith that we will move in the right direction,” Turturro said.
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