Rutgers visits No. 6 Penn State, hosts No. 12 Maryland in final weekend of season
Throughout this season, the Rutgers field hockey team has shown its mettle, winning tough games and hanging with superior opponents. And now as the final weekend looms, it has two more big opportunities to make a statement.
The No. 21 Scarlet Knights (9-6, 3-3) conclude their regular season with matchups against two ranked teams. First, they go on the road to play No. 6 Penn State (12-3, 4-2) on Friday before heading home for their Senior Day finale against No. 12 Maryland (10-5, 4-2) on Sunday.
Last time Rutgers took the field, it suffered a 2-0 loss to Ohio State in which it failed to convert on many opportunities, including 11 penalty corners. Many players were in agreement that in order to win this weekend, it must capitalize when it has the chance.
“We got to finish on every opportunity because we aren’t going to get as many as we did on Sunday,” said sophomore forward Nikki Santore.
The Knights will have their hands full with both of their top-15 opponents this week, both of which are sure to give the team a challenge.
“We’ve got to play our game and really focus on the areas that we excel in and play to our strengths," said head coach Meredith Civico. If we do that and exploit some of our opponents’ weaknesses, we can create some opportunities.”
Penn State has has one of the top offensive players in the Big Ten in junior Moira Putsch. Her 12 goals lead the Nittany Lions and place her third overall in the conference. She also has 12 assists, good for second in the conference.
In goal for Penn State is junior Jenny Rizzo, whose .802-save percentage is not only the first in the conference but fourth overall in the country. Her 1.27 goals against average are second in the conference and ninth in the nation.
“Penn State plays a really high-pressure in-your-face-counterattacking game,” Civico said. “They’re fit, they’re solid throughout the field, and they’ve got a good (goalkeeper) and dynamic and creative forwards. So (to beat them) we have to play as a team. We have to move the ball, get everybody involved and be really sharp in our attacking 25.”
Rutgers’ last win against the Nittany Lions came in 1985.
As for Maryland, the Terrapins are coming off a 5-4 win against then-No. 3 Virginia on Tuesday, handing the Cavaliers just their third loss of the season. The Terps also have the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Week in Bodil Keus, who helped make many defensive stops and scored a goal in a win against Maryland. She also made a key defensive play late in the game to help preserve a tie with Penn State in a game that Maryland won in overtime.
Maryland’s offense runs through senior Lein Holsober, who leads the team in goals with 10, which is the fourth-highest total in the Big Ten. Her 0.63 goals per game are also fourth in the conference.
“Maryland’s a team that plays with structure and are very deliberate with what they’re doing,” Civico said.
Rutgers hopes to counter with an offense of its own, which is led by freshmen such as Daphne Groothuis, Gianna Mancini and Kerrie Burns, who have combined to score 13 goals. Overall, freshmen have accounted for nearly half of the Knights’ goals, scoring 16 of their 33.
“(The freshmen) are (a) group that has added a lot of energy,” Civico said. “They’re very technically solid and I think they’re taking the team and the program to the next level. I’m excited to have them for the rest of this season and the next three years.”
Another freshman making waves is goalkeeper Gianna Glatz, who, in the game against Ohio State, eclipsed 1,000 minutes in goal this season. She is the first Rutgers goalkeeper to reach that mark in two years.
After all that the Knights have done this season and to this point, they are ready to end their season on a positive note, and carry the momentum to the Big Ten Tournament and maybe beyond.
“These last two games are pretty big, and we’re probably thought of as underdogs,” said Burns. “So we want to come out and put our foot down and show that we can be a top team as well.”
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