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Crucial Big Ten doubleheader is Rutgers' next challenge

<p>Senior captain Devon Freshnock said execution on corners was a point of emphasis for the Knights in practice this week.<br></p>

Senior captain Devon Freshnock said execution on corners was a point of emphasis for the Knights in practice this week.

This is a make or break weekend for the Rutgers field hockey team.

The Scarlet Knights (7-5, 1-3) take on a Big Ten doubleheader, hosting Michigan State (5-8, 1-3) on Friday before heading west to square off with Ohio State (5-8, 0-4) on Sunday.

Rutgers cannot afford to make the same mistakes it did last weekend.

In their latest contest, the Knights tallied a staggering 17 corners and 26 shots but failed to score until 10 minutes into overtime play after matching zeros with St. Joseph's throughout regulation. 

Rutgers rebounded with the dramatic victory after falling to Michigan 3-1 when the teams matched with five penalty corners apiece and the Wolverines scored all three goals on set pieces.

Last weekend exposed a major area of weakness the Knights are adamant on improving.

“I think one of the takeaways that we had was executing on corners so Monday we had a whole corner practice and we came out early (Wednesday morning) to do more corners,” said senior captain Devon Freshnock. “I think they win games. It’s happened to us, I mean other teams have scored just on their corners so it’s really important. It’s a big focus this week.”

Outside of set pieces, Rutgers has been dominating play in the other areas around the field. Corner execution is the final piece that will give way to the results the team needs.

A limping Michigan State comes to the Banks having dropped seven of its last eight contests after beginning the season 4-1. Their lone win came over Ohio State by a score of 4-2.

With the conference championship around the corner, this next doubleheader will play a huge role in the Knights’ chances at the postseason.

“We want to be in Big Ten play in November and that’s not even a question. This Michigan State game on Friday is a step that we need to take in order to get there,” said head coach Meredith Civico. “The team knows that and they know it’s a really big game. They’re up for it — I’ve got a lot of belief and a lot of confidence in this group. I’ve really seen them grow in the last three, four games of the season. I’m excited, I think they’re mentally ready and its just execution under pressure that we need to focus on.”

Currently winless in Big Ten play, the Buckeyes face No. 6 Maryland on Friday before hosting Rutgers on Sunday. If Ohio State drops both contests, it cannot finish higher than the Knights in conference standings in the case of a head-to-head tie.

Despite the weight of the Knights’ upcoming games, the team is ignoring the noise and using the pressure as motivation.

“We want to focus on us, we don’t wanna really focus too much on what the other team does,” said freshman goalkeeper Amanda Lamb. “Sure, we’ll adjust to what they’re doing, but we wanna focus on our game and play our game.”

Michigan State and Ohio State are the first unranked-conference opponents Rutgers will face since its opening Big Ten weekend. The matchup with lower-profile rivals comes at an ideal time in the season with the conference tournament on the line now more than ever.

Last season, the Knights failed to capture a conference win. With a record-breaking victory over No. 15 Iowa on the season already, Rutgers shows a promise to make a statement as a Big Ten program this year. All that's left to do it's execute.

“I think our last couple games have been our best hockey,” Civico said. “If we can really focus on playing to our strengths and playing our game and finishing our opportunities, I think we’ll come out on top.”

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

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