Ranked foes await Rutgers in weekend road trip

<p>Sophomore forward Rachel Yaney said the weekend gives the Knights a chance to show their ability versus ranked teams.</p>

Sophomore forward Rachel Yaney said the weekend gives the Knights a chance to show their ability versus ranked teams.

The Rutgers field hockey team goes into its most challenging weekend of the season.

The Scarlet Knights (6-7, 1-4) face the challenge of taking on a pair of top-five teams in No. 5 Penn State and the No. 2 Maryland.

“I think competition-wise, Penn State and Maryland are two of the top teams in the conference,” said head coach Meredith Long. “The team is excited to compete, and we are going to take it one game at a time, and Penn state is first.”

The Knights take on Penn State (10-3, 2-2) on Friday at University Park. The Nittany Lions are coming off a loss to Rutgers’ Sunday opponent, Maryland, 4-3, last Friday.

Penn State is 5-1 at home this year with its only loss coming from No. 14 Michigan. 

Head coach Charlene Morett-Curtiss enters her 28th season at the helm for the Nittany Lions, which makes her the longest-tenured coach in the Big Ten and the sixth-longest tenured in Division I history.

Penn State has a high-powered offense, as six of its players have four or more goals this season. Forward Taylor Herold leads the team with 13 goals and forward Jenna Chrismer follows with eight goals.  

The team takes many shots on goal and tries to capitalize on a plethora of corners. On the season, the Nittany Lions average 3.23 goals a game.

Along with their aggressive offense, their defense is giving up just 1.31 goals per game.

The Knights get set to take on Maryland (11-2, 4-1), Long’s alma mater, on Sunday.

The Terrapins’ only two losses have come at the hands of No. 1 North Carolina and No. 9 Northwestern.

Long faces off against her former head coach Missy Meharg, who has built up a great program in her 27 years as head coach and has seven national titles to show for it.

Maryland is similar to Penn State in that it maintains a solid balance in its team, scoring goals abundantly and locking down opponents on the defensive end. 

On the season, Maryland is 7-1 at home and essentially a lock to make the Big Ten tournament, something Rutgers is still progressing toward making.

The Terrapins have 11 players this season that have registered two goals or more. Two standouts on the team are midfielder Anna Desoye, who has seven goals and 11 assists, as well as forward Katie Gerzabek, who has 13 assists on the season. 

Although this weekend’s opponents are two of the toughest they will face all season long, the Knights do not feel the pressure.

“Being the underdog is always easier,” said sophomore defender Sofia Walia. “They’re well aware that we are here to give them a fight. They should be scared of what is going to come for them.”

Although it won’t be easy, Rutgers has a chance to beat the highest ranked opponents in its history this weekend. Dating back to 2004, Rutgers is 2-41 in games against ranked opponents.

Rutgers hasn’t had the best luck going against ranked opponents this season, losing to four ranked teams by one goal, but the Knights have always been competitive.

A win against a program of Penn State and Maryland’s stature would be huge for Rutgers this season and the program as a whole moving forward.

“It would give us a lot of confidence,” said sophomore forward Rachel Yaney. “A lot of people are doubting us, and I think that we will show a lot of people how good we are.”

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

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