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Depth, conditioning boost Rutgers in second half of season

<p>Hayley Katkowski is a prime example of the durability and versatility Rutgers presents. The senior midfielder plays all over the field and was one of three Knights to log all 110 minutes of Sunday’s match.</p>

Hayley Katkowski is a prime example of the durability and versatility Rutgers presents. The senior midfielder plays all over the field and was one of three Knights to log all 110 minutes of Sunday’s match.

The collegiate soccer season is a grind for student-athletes between all the time spent in practice and in the classroom.

The Rutgers women’s soccer team is well-acquainted with the strenuous nature of its season, having already played three Big Ten games on the road and following it up with a pair of home contests at Yurcak Field this past weekend.

The No. 25 Scarlet Knights (9-2-1, 2-2-1) are in the midst of the stretch run of their schedule, with six conference games remaining before the Big Ten Tournament and a potential bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Fatigue can start to become a factor this time of year, especially after playing 110 minutes of action in a 1-1 draw against Michigan on Sunday.

Mike O’Neill knows the importance of conditioning is at this point of the season. The second-year head coach made it a point of emphasis with his team as they prepare for conference opponents during the week.

“The success that we have is based a lot on our depth and the kind of shape we are in,” O'Neill said. “Going from a Friday night game to a Sunday afternoon game is a very quick turnaround and we are happy with the way our players are contributing, which we attribute a lot to our depth and conditioning.”

The mantra for the Knights this season has been "30 Strong," a reference to the total number of players on the roster.

They talk about how important each player is during not only matches, but also in training sessions.

Veteran leaders will help motivate their younger teammates in sprints and long-distance runs during practice, as well as lateral exercises meant to increase acceleration.

It is this kind of training that builds endurance and the confidence within the team. With such intensity exerted during practices, the Knights don't even think about fatigue over the course of their games.

One of the leaders spearheading these efforts is senior midfielder Hayley Katkowski, who became one of the most reliable and durable players for Rutgers.

She started 76 consecutive games since debuting for the Knights in 2012, including logging all 110 minutes of the match against Michigan.

The Westford, Massachusetts, native became a model of consistency for Rutgers. She said she credits the team’s conditioning program as getting the most out of her and her teammates.

“We have a strong bench and are confident with whoever subs into the game because we are all prepared to play,” she said. “We always make sure to get our bodies to recover fast after games and to make sure that we are doing the right things to be ready for whatever games throw at us.”

This mentality rang especially true following the Michigan game, which coaches and players noted as their most physical match of the season so far.

The Knights used 20 players in the contest, which was their highest total of the season.

Along with Katkowski, senior defenders Erica Skroski and Brianne Reed logged all 110 minutes of the match, as well as sophomore goalkeeper Casey Murphy.

While the Knights have plenty of depth, it is a big boost for them to count on these players to give them consistent minutes on the pitch.

“Recovery will be very important for us this week after playing a lot of minutes of soccer over the last few days, but we are okay playing however much we have to,” Murphy said. “It’s the grind of the season and we should know what to expect by this point.”

For updates on the Rutgers women’s soccer team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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