Knights fall short in Rutgers first conference matchup
The Rutgers women’s lacrosse team continued to make history when it hosted No. 15 Penn State on Saturday. Unlike the milestones the Scarlet Knights have been reaching in the recent past, the history made at High Point Solution Stadium was not entirely negative.
The match began in celebration of the inaugural Big Ten Conference match being played in Piscataway, fittingly in front of the season’s biggest crowd with 551 fans, including the alumni visiting for Alumni Day, cheering on both sides.
However, as the final horn sounded, the record notched is not one that has them beaming with pride.
After being outscored, 5-1, in the opening 15 minutes of the second period, Rutgers scored the final three goals of the game to reduce the Nittany Lions' lead to 10. But it was too late and the Knights suffered their 10th consecutive loss to extend the longest losing streak in program history, 15-8.
Rutgers earned the first lead of the game through Halley Barnes, as the junior attacker scored the first goal in a Big Ten Conference game in program history one minute into the match. Barnes’ goal was the first opening goal scored by the Knights since their double-overtime loss to Monmouth on Feb. 25.
“Being a part of history and being on a team that’s a part of history is an unbelievable experience ... playing in college was never a thought in my mind and now I get to be a part of history,” Barnes said of her opening goal.
After the positive start, the first half shifted in Penn State’s favor. The Nittany Lions outscored the home side, 10-3, in the final 25 minutes of the period, going 5-for-5 on free position attempts and outshooting their hosts, 22-12.
Candice Dandridge made seven saves in the opening half, including a few breathtaking stops to keep the Nittany Lions at bay.
With Rutgers leading 1-0, Dandridge was left one-on-one with a Penn State attacker after a careless turnover by the Knights. The senior goalkeeper was able to make an incredible save to preserve what ended up being her team’s only lead of the match.
The Big Ten’s leader in saves, averaging 8.4 per game, shared how she defends the net.
“Analyzing the team,” the Cherry Hill, New Jersey, native said. “Watching film with my defensive coach really helps and makes us mentally prepared as a team and a defensive unit. That’s how (we learn) to breakdown players, when to step to the ball, how to save it, their tendencies and how to stop it.”
Entering the locker room trailing 10-4, there remained a sliver of hope for Rutgers' comeback. Earlier in the season, the Knights were able to score six unanswered goals in the second half against then-No. 15 James Madison, one of only three teams that defeated the Nittany Lions this season.
Penn State had other plans.
The team from Happy Valley broke free on the back of Tatum Coffey, who scored two counter-attack goals in one minute after a couple of careless turnovers by Rutgers.
Coffey was one of three Nittany Lions to score a hat trick in the contest and one of seven players who scored at least one goal, showing the unselfishness and depth of the Penn State offense.
“Penn State is a great team. Their offense doesn’t all go through one player so they have many threats," Dandridge said. "They’re very fast. They know how to move the ball, they know how to move on the eight and they’re very good at dodging."
Unable to shake off the pesky losing streak that the team faces every day, the Knights remain positive in their outlook for the season.
Head coach Laura Brand-Sias exhibits pride in her troops’ ability to bounce back.
“This is a group where no one likes to lose. We’ve been having a rough season in that department,” Brand-Sias said. “But you can pick and choose what you want to do with it — you can either choose to give up the next day or you can come back and fight even harder, and this is a group that’s done a really good job of coming back and fighting even harder.”
For updates on the Rutgers women’s lacrosse team, follow @briannnnf and @TargumSports on Twitter.