Changed mentality prepares Rutgers for Big Ten play

<p>Junior forward Katie Champion said she is excited about starting Big Ten play and feels prepared for the challenge of competing in one of the top conferences.</p>

Junior forward Katie Champion said she is excited about starting Big Ten play and feels prepared for the challenge of competing in one of the top conferences.

As the Rutgers field hockey team gets set to play Iowa on Sunday in its first-ever Big Ten conference game, the Scarlet Knights have come together and set a date on their calendars: November 6, 2014, the day the Big Ten Championship starts.

“This team wants to be playing in Michigan in November in the Big Ten Championships,” said head coach Meredith Long. “We want to be playing in the NCAA Tournament. We want to be one of the top-ranked teams in the NCAA.”

Though difficult goals to attain, they are not outrageous considering the Knights’ play up to this point in the season.

As it stands now, Rutgers is 4-2 but hasn’t played a conference game yet. These games are more crucial in determining the Knights’ long-term success.

The Big Ten is a juggernaut conference, with seven of its nine teams currently in the NFHCA Top 20: No. 2 Maryland, No. 6 Penn State, No. 9 Iowa, No. 15 Northwestern, No. 16 Michigan State, No. 17 Indiana and No. 18 Michigan.

Although there is an increased level of competition and it takes time to adjust to a new conference, the Knights haven’t shown it yet.

“I’m extremely excited and we’ve prepared very well,” forward Katie Champion said of joining the Big Ten. “Playing against a top team today [Virginia] shows how everything we’ve done so far is coming together.”

Long thinks the opportunity has presented itself at a perfect time for the team and looks forward to the challenges that lie ahead in the coming years.

“It’s so exciting for me as a coach,” Long said. “I always want my team to be challenged and to be in a position to get better and improve. It’s happening at the perfect time for us to get better, as we are right where we need to be and are peaking at the right moment and time this season. We have made adjustments and our play keeps going up.”

Rutgers is a much different team from last year as the Knights have made strides in changing their preparation for the Big Ten.

“We’ve changed our attitude,” Champion said. “We struggled a lot coming in to the first half last year because our intensity was low. This year, we’ve focused on getting something going on offense to put us ahead of the other team within the first 10 minutes.”

Sophia Walia thinks another added element has helped the Knights get better on both offense and defense.

“I think that when we are on the field, we are going 110 percent, whether it’s in practice or the game,” Walia said. “We put each other under pressure, and it’s important to have each other’s back in order for us to get better.”

Rutgers has matured thanks to the experience gained last season when the majority of the team was underclassmen.

“I think this is a program that’s still building,” Long said. “The biggest change for us this year is the experience on the field. The sophomore class experience is really coming up big, especially in the back four, with Sophia Walia, Devon Freshnock, Elyse Broderick and Shevaun Hayes all out there. Their experience is helping the team take it to the next level.”

For updates on the Rutgers field hockey team, follow @TargumSports for updates.

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