Rutgers set to begin season this weekend
Knights are coming off most wins since 2014
After finishing last season with eight wins, the most since 2014, the Rutgers women’s lacrosse team has high expectations heading into its 2018 season.
The Scarlet Knights are ranked No. 5 out of 7 teams in the Big Ten Coaches Poll, one rank higher than their preseason rank last year. After coming up one game short of making the Big Ten Tournament last season, they hope to take a step further this season.
Entering her 16th year at the helm of the team, head coach Lauren Brand-Sias has seen a lot, but there are still some surprises each year. For example, this year the NCAA did not allow teams to have full practices before Jan. 20. Usually practices start around two weeks earlier than that.
“We had to prioritize the schemes and things we were going to get done for the first set of games, but it also allows us to roll out more things throughout the season,” Brand-Sias said.
Rutgers should benefit from a potent offense that is mostly left intact from last season. Despite losing alumni Kristina Dunphey and Amanda Turturro — its top two point scorers from last season — it still has a lot of talent on the roster, returning 6 of its top 9 scorers.
Brand-Sias noted that her team is balanced when it comes to scoring, and took time to talk about many players who could make an impact on offense this upcoming season. In an interview with the Big Ten Network, she listed seven players who could contribute on offense this season, proving how much depth her team has.
“The list goes on and on,” she said in the interview. “We don’t want to have a team where if you shut down one player, the others don’t know what to do.”
One of the main people she singled out was senior tri-captain Kerri Puckhaber. Puckhaber might not have been the top scorer last season, but Brand-Sias called her the “quarterback” of the offense.
Puckhaber produced 12 goals and 10 assists for the team last season.
“It’s not exactly a statistical comment, it’s more about their presence, leadership and vocal contribution,” Brand-Sias said. “She’s just a natural leader, and while she may not be at the top of the points list, she’s someone who has a consistent presence on the field. She’s well-respected by her team and is a very smart player.”
Puckhaber herself added that it was a big honor to have the respect of her team and be named captain.
She was also one of the Knights who was named to the Big Ten Preseason Honors List, which she also said gave her pride.
“There’s so many good players in the Big Ten, and me being voted for that is a huge honor,” she said. “I’m so excited to show what I got this year. (sic)”
On the other side of the ball, Rutgers boasts a strong defense. Led by senior Amanda Casten, who has been named to two All-Big Ten teams, the unit will look to back up the offense and help hold on to leads.
The Knights have the challenge of playing in one of the toughest conferences in the country. The Big Ten boasts defending champion Maryland, who has made five straight championship games and won three of them, as well as Penn State, who made the semifinals the past two years.
Because of this, Brand-Sias made sure to have a tough out-of-conference schedule to prepare her players.
“(Being in the Big Ten) is a huge challenge, but that’s what we’re here for,” she said. “We’ve always been a program that’s gotten the best possible schedule we can, and you’ve got to play the best to be the best … we don’t like to play easy games in our non-conference schedule, so we can prepare for that Big Ten slate.”
That non-conference schedule starts this Saturday at Temple, and without any game film, Rutgers doesn’t know much about the Owls, other than their general tendencies. Still, it knows that it will have to fight all the way through in order to secure the win, which would be a great way to start the season.
“This year feels different than any other year,” Puckhaber said. “We’re all confident and positive. One thing my captains and I apply is holding people accountable this year. We’re excited to get on the field and show what we got.”
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