Knights hope to contain No. 9 Hawkeyes’ uptempo attack
The weekend the Rutgers field hockey team has been looking forward to make its mark in the Big Ten conference is finally here.
The Scarlet Knights are set to host No. 9 Iowa on Sunday in both teams’ first conference game this season.
Boasting a 4-2 record, the Hawkeyes have played against some of the country’s best competition. They pulled off upsets against No. 1 North Carolina and No. 8 Stanford but fell to No. 10 Virginia and No. 12 Wake Forest.
The Knights look to get back on track after a difficult loss to Virginia last Sunday. This is their second straight game against a top-10 team and one that plays with a style identical to Virginia.
Head coach Meredith Long and the Knights know what to expect from an attack-heavy Iowa team.
“Iowa has quick, dynamic forwards who are really producing on the attacking end for them,” Long said. “They’re traditionally a physical, fast, counter-attacking team.”
One of those dynamic forwards for the Hawkeyes is Natalie Cafone, who has accumulated nine goals and two assists for 20 points this season.
When Iowa needs a goal, they look to Cafone to provide it.
“She is fast, aggressive and can finish. She’s dangerous when she gets the ball,” Long said. “We want to deny her the ball and put pressure on her the entire game. Our backfield has players who can match her. If we can shut her down and play in our structure and have every player on our team touching the ball, we will we have success.”
Iowa also has an impressive player on defense in goalie Alexandra Pecora.
Allowing fewer than two goals per game this season (1.95), Pecora presents a challenge for Rutgers’ offense.
“Corners are going to be a big part of it,” Long said. “We have to make her work. A big focus for us is getting early shots on goal and on target to create a lot of pressure for their defense and the goalkeeper. We want more early shots from the top of the circle.”
Sophomore midfielder Alyssa Bull feels rebounds will be a big help for the Knights to generate goals.
“We have to be really gritty and get every rebound possible by taking as many shots as we can and having our forwards down by the goalie prepared for the rebounds,” Bull said.
Evidently, Iowa’s talent doesn’t intimidate Bull.
“I’m expecting an aggressive, fast paced team,” she said. “I know they’re a good team, and we are ready to compete at a high level, especially coming off the weekend we just had.”
In addition, the Knights plan for a key play in the midfield to control the tempo and set the pace of the game, as well as to control possession for the majority of the game. They will have to negate Iowa’s attacks, as well as generate their own.
“We have to be aware of our defense and offense as well as the opponents offense,” senior captain midfielder Jenn Staab said of what the midfield has to do. “You want to position yourself to be an option for your team.”
Bull thinks the midfield must be precise with its timing and skill.
“We have to connect through the midfield, work off one another and adjust really well,” she said. “We have to read the play and know when to go [attack] and when to pass. We have to know what skill to use at what time.”
The Knights know this game is their big chance to get their first win in Big Ten play this season, get recognition and be able to compete in the Big Ten Tournament, but they don’t want to get ahead of themselves.
“It’s one game at a time,” Long said. “Iowa is first up. We have to take care of business on Sunday.”
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