Rutgers' defense proves vital to success
For the Rutgers field hockey team, defense has been vital toward its success and competitiveness.
This season, the Scarlet Knights have allowed 22 goals, an average of 2.75 per game. Opponents have scored 22 goals on 138 shots on goal.
Other than a blowout loss to Temple, the Knights have lost by one goal twice this season. The defense has always fought to keep the team in the game.
The first-unit defenders, Sophia Walia, Devon Freshnock, Elyse Broderick and Jenn Staab, as well as goalie Shevaun Hayes have gone lengths to become a cohesive unit and thwart the opposition’s attacks.
That’s just what head coach Meredith Long wants, as four of the five are sophomores and have plenty of more time to develop and become a superior unit.
“From a recruiting standpoint, it was a big focus two years ago to get good defenders,” Long said. “We needed a unit that can build our attack from the backfield, and we really chose those players carefully and are really excited about them coming back for multiple seasons. They have so much potential, and the more experience they get will just build their confidence.”
The defenders’ different qualities are what Long thinks has made the unit stout.
“[Sophia Walia] and Jenn Staab understand the game really well,” Long said. “All of them understand what we are trying to achieve with our structure and how we try to manipulate the opposition’s forward line. They are all great tacklers and have great instincts. Devon and Elyse bring a lot of speed to the table, while Jenn and Wally provide the knowledge.”
Broderick feels the team has gotten better from the past year and can continue to get better and grow as a unit with the added experience.
“The past spring offseason playing together helped us be able to communicate well and know each other’s tendencies and where to find each other on the field,” Broderick said.
One area where the defense has been good and able to deny the opponents’ goals is on the defensive penalty corner unit. It consists of Hayes, Walia, Staab, Freshnock and Broderick. They are effective in clearing the ball out of the circle.
“Our defensive penalty corner unit is so solid,” Long said of what stands out the most about her defensive unit. “Shevaun is able to read the attack. Devon, Elyse, Jenn and Sophia are very hard to get through because their mentality is to deny penalty corners and get the ball out. They are able to perform under pressure, which is great for the team.”
The players have to be well prepared when it comes to knowing the offense’s tendencies, which they accomplish through studying game footage.
“You have to really see and witness where you have to be on the field,” Broderick said. “You have to understand their tendencies and just be really aware of what’s happening around you.”
When it comes to situational play or adjusting to the personnel on the field, the defense is prepared to do whatever it takes.
“Our defensive press changes based on how [the opposition] outlet the ball,” Freshnock said. “It varies with who is playing, but we are really good at adjusting with the personnel on the field.”
Long is excited about what the future holds for Rutgers’ defense, with the players in it showing signs early in their career of wanting to get better.
“They put a lot of time in looking over film. They look at things like situational play and breakdown situations to know how to act,” Long said. “They’re really proactive about their development and that’s exactly what I was trying to create with this group. They really take their development in their own hands and want to get better, show that they are self-driven.”
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