No. 20 Rutgers faces busy, challenging weekend with No. 4 Michigan, No. 12 Stanford on tap
As the Rutgers field hockey team enters the thick of its Big Ten schedule, every game is tightly fought and can go either way, especially when it is one of many teams in the conference that is nationally ranked.
“As we get deeper and deeper into Big Ten play, the games get tighter and more physical, and there’s more on the line,” said head coach Meredith Civico. “Big Ten field hockey is known for its physicality and competitiveness.”
And while the Scarlet Knights only play one of their two games this weekend against a conference opponent, they will still be tested and must play hard in order to claim victory.
No. 20 Rutgers (7-4, 2-0) heads out to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to face No. 4 Michigan (9-2, 4-0) Thursday and then plays its last non-conference game against No. 12 Stanford (7-3, 4-0) on Friday.
“These are two very big games coming up,” said freshman Kerrie Burns. “And towards this time of the season we talk a lot about communication and being together as a team. I feel like if everyone puts 100 percent into their game, we’ll get a 100 percent result out of it.”
The Knights are coming off a 3-2 loss to No. 10 Northwestern, where they struggled to gather early momentum, which led to them falling behind early. In order to keep up with teams, especially ones that are ranked above them, they will need to find the early momentum.
“I think the first ten minutes for us are crucial in any game to set ourselves up and get that positive attacking momentum going,” Civico said.
Michigan is one of the top teams in the Big Ten and will prove to be quite a challenge for Rutgers. The Wolverines’ 3.35 goals per game are the seventh-most in the country, and their 2.41-scoring margin is the sixth-most.
As for players, Michigan has the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Week in Halle O’Neill and boasts one of the best goalkeepers in the conference in Sam Swenson.
Swenson has won the Big Ten Defender of the Week three times and the National Field Hockey Coaches Association Defense Player of the Week once. She leads the conference with both a .807 save percentage, which is also fifth in the country and a goals-against average of 1.01, seventh in the country.
“Michigan has got a couple of really talented players and a very good goalkeeper,” Civico said. “I know it’s going to be a great game.”
Stanford recently had its seven-game win streak snapped, but is still an impressive team. Freshman Corinne Zanolli leads the Cardinal with eight goals and has earned two America East Rookie of the Week awards. Sophomore goalkeeper Kelsey Bing’s .813 save percentage is the third-best in the country.
“We wanted to pick up a non-conference opponent out there to push us and help us get better, and playing a team like Stanford will do that,” Civico said. “They’ve had a couple of really good results, and Ohio State just beat them this past weekend. We haven’t played them in the past, so they’re not a really a familiar opponent for us, which is sometimes a good thing. We’re looking forward to that game.”
For Rutgers, Netherlands natives Daphne Groothuis and Linde van Schaik lead the team with six goals each and are the top two on the Knights with 17 and 16 points, respectively.
On Sunday, Groothuis discussed what she and the team would work on during practice this week.
“I think we’re going to improve on outlet (passing) because we were struggling with the pressure Northwestern gave us,” she said. “We’ll also practice on attack and defensive penalty corners.”
Rutgers players believe that it has the talent to win any game if everything goes smoothly, and winning these next two games would be a big step toward achieving that.
“Every game is an opportunity to win and all the Big Ten teams are pretty close to each other," she said. "You can see that in the scores from other teams. We can win every single game, and that is definitely our goal.”
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