Rutgers remains positive after rollercoaster season in 2015

<p>Junior midfielder Alyssa Bull started all 18 games in&nbsp;2015, finishing with&nbsp;tied for the team lead in assists (5) to compliment her four goals.</p>

Junior midfielder Alyssa Bull started all 18 games in 2015, finishing with tied for the team lead in assists (5) to compliment her four goals.

The Rutgers field hockey team had an extended hand reaching out but found nothing to grasp onto.

With their rigorous 2015 season coming to a close, the Scarlet Knights rounded out this fall with a 7-11 overall record while going 0 for 8 in conference play.

This was not the ending Rutgers had hoped or planned for.

Initially, the Knights hit the ground running through the opening matchups of their sophomore season in the Big Ten. Rutgers won five of its first seven games, outscoring opponents 29-14 and leading the conference in goals scored per game.

“I think we had a really strong start and we gained a lot of momentum and a lot of confidence early on,” said head coach Meredith Civico. “We were able to score quite a few goals in our opening stretch and I think that’s something that we haven’t done before. We had a lot of players contributing.”

Unfortunately, these good times didn’t last.

As the season progressed, the opposition on the other side of the field grew increasingly menacing. The Knights battled against six ranked opponents this year with all but two coming in the latter portion of their season. The team fell into a mid-late season skid, landing on the wrong side of the scoreboard in nine of its last 11 contests, including four shutouts.

This is only part of the story though.

Rutgers did not roll over for any opponent this season. Of the six ranked foes faced, half of these matchups were decided by just one goal. The Knights also sent two games into overtime and took only three losses from unranked teams by a margin of victory greater than one goal.

Ending their final weekend of play this season with a pair of clean sheet losses to Big Ten rival Indiana and No. 9 Louisville, Rutgers put up top performances against both teams, but still fell victim to the reoccurring theme of coming up just short.

Rather than focusing on the numbers on the scoreboard, the Knights hold their heads high with pride in the hockey they played and assurance that they left it all on the field.

In reflecting on this season, Rutgers remains unwaveringly positive and eager to work toward improvements for the future.

“We’ve got a lot to be proud of and we’ve got a lot of really good things propelling us into our spring,” Civico said. “I think they’re coming away from these last couple games knowing that they really can compete at the highest level. You know, Louisville’s a top ten team in the country right now and we were really tight with them and really close and we’ve had a lot of those games this season. I think that’s what they’re really taking away—they’re right there and we’ve got to get better in some specific areas and if we do that and focus on that in the offseason, we’re coming back next year and it’s a different season.”

The Knights suffered their first two losses this fall at the hands of No. 9 Virginia and No. 16 Iowa. Both the Cavaliers and the Hawkeyes held only a one-goal edge, with Rutgers coming tantalizingly close to capturing some of the biggest upsets in program history.

Civico feels that these initial defeats had a significant impact on the team’s trajectory and momentum this season.

“I think that big win is something we haven’t seen yet and I think our team’s really looking for that,” Civico said. “Winning a game like (Iowa or Virginia) is gonna give us a lot of confidence and I think that’s one of the biggest things for us as a program. We’ve got to go out there and we’ve got to believe from the beginning to the end that we can beat and compete with everybody.”

The Knights saw their final chance at securing a spot in the Big Ten Championships slip through their fingers at Bauer Track/Field Hockey Complex in a hearbreaking 3-2-overtime loss to Penn State, followed by a 4-0 shutout against the No. 7 Terrapins on Senior Day.

Eight of the nine programs in the conference make the championships but Rutgers finished on the outside looking in this season.

Nevertheless, the team was resiliently strong throughout the final stretch of its season and went into each game with something to prove.

“We definitely know that we didn’t reach our goals this year that we really had hoped for but it takes a lot out of a team to still be motivated till the very end and I think that we proved that we were more than just motivated—we knew what we were playing for, we had pride throughout every game that we played in the end and I think that was a big deal for us,” said junior defender Sophia Walia. “We came out strong. Teams definitely were taking us easy and we definitely showed them who we were. It’s just making a statement and letting them know that we’re not done here.”

As a program still in the midst of building its foundation while also calling one of the most elite field hockey conferences in the nation home, it’s essential that the Knights maintain a poised persistence throughout their growth without letting the statistics charts take precedence in their mental approach.

Rutgers has made irrefutably tremendous strides that may not be evident in looking at the numbers, but are blatant in their game and what they’ve brought to the field.

“For me I think this year we had probably one of the most skilled teams I’ve been on at Rutgers,” said redshirt junior midfielder Alyssa Bull. “Unfortunately we didn’t get the outcomes but the hockey was good, the memories were good and it was a lot of fun. We learned a lot and grew a lot as a team so I think if we can continue to grow, we’ll be even better next year and hopefully we can start to get the wins and the outcomes that we need.”

Many see the Knights as a team that’s standing on the shoulders of giants as members of the Big Ten. Though they endured an arduous uphill battle this season, the vision for the Rutgers field hockey program is still in sight. Learning from this season’s shortcomings, the team is determined to train areas of weakness and translate its efforts into results in the future.

“I think that it’s hard to be so patient all the time and I think that’s just one thing that we have to do because we are an upcoming program,” Walia said. “We’re showing people how we can play but every piece is not really necessarily always there and that’s where we lack sometimes. So I think that once we start bringing in those pieces together and it’s always there for 70 minutes of the game, we’re gonna definitely see this (season) as a learning stepping stone.”

If the Knights take away anything from this fall, it’s the necessity for that last ounce of effort to tip the scale in their favor.

“I think we’re knocking on the door, we’re just there and we’ve just gotta keep on pushing from every single person,” Walia said. “We play with smart, we play with our hearts and we play with pride, and if we keep doing that then I think that there’s nobody that can stop us.”

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

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