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Knights look back on impressive season

<p>Senior forward Alyssa Bull was a captain&nbsp;of what head coach Meredith Civico called the best team she's coached at Rutgers.</p>

Senior forward Alyssa Bull was a captain of what head coach Meredith Civico called the best team she's coached at Rutgers.

From the beginning of the season, Rutgers head field hockey coach Meredith Civico said that this was the best team she’s ever coached in her time on the Banks.

This year’s Scarlet Knights (9-9, 2-6) proved that in her fifth year at Rutgers and her third Big Ten season, Civico’s assertion was unquestionable.

The program’s growth between 2015 and 2016 was staggering.

This year, the team ended at .500 compared to last year’s dismal 7-11 overall record. The 2016 team also defeated two Big Ten foes, one of which — Iowa — was a top-15 ranked NCAA program and was the biggest upset in program history. In 2015, Rutgers failed to capture a single conference win.

With the season now over, the Knights can reflect on a rollercoaster season filled with both highs and lows to learn from. 

“We’re just proud as a team — we worked through the process and the season … (I’m) really just proud of this team and honored to be part of it,” said senior Alyssa Bull. “My time at Rutgers is done, but I think the program is going to reach new limits each and every year.”

The team hit the ground running in September, with a 5-2 record and a perfect slate at home. When the Knights took on their opening Big Ten weekend in Bloomington against Indiana, they were handed a stinging 3-2 loss, but rebounded a day and a half later with a vengeance.

Rutgers dominated in a 2-1 win over No. 15 Iowa, setting a record for the biggest upset in program history. It was the Knights’ first win over a ranked opponent since 2013 and the first ever win over the Hawkeyes.

Out of eight conference rivals, Iowa was the first of five top-15 ranked foes that Rutgers faced this season and was the only one that the Knights were able to defeat.

After being handed losses by No. 6 Northwestern, No. 10 Michigan and Michigan State, Rutgers’ chances at securing a bid to the Big Ten Championships were hanging in the balance when the team traveled to Columbus to take on Ohio State.

With postseason hopes on the line, the Knights clinched their spot in the conference tournament with a tenacious 3-1 victory over the Buckeyes.

The team went on to drop its remaining two Big Ten matches to No. 6 Penn State and No. 3 Maryland before heading down to College Park for its second ever appearance in the conference championships.

Being the eighth seeded team, Rutgers took on conference host and No. 1 Big Ten team Maryland in the quarterfinals less than one week after falling to the Terrapins in its final regular season game by 4-2.

In the dramatic elimination game, the Knights found themselves in a deep hole after Maryland notched 2 goals in the first three minutes of the contest.

Although Rutgers held off the Terps for the remainder of the first frame and matched with one goal each through the second half, it wasn’t enough to come out on top. The 2016 season ended with a 3-1 loss to the No. 3 team in the country.

Eight seniors played their final game as Scarlet Knights that day in College Park, and although it wasn’t the outcome they had hoped for, they nevertheless took pride in a historic final season.

“I’m pretty proud of how we ended … The people that we ended with are definitely people who’ve made a dramatic impact on the program itself,” said senior goalkeeper Shevaun Hayes. “I’ve learned so much from everyone here … It’s just an honor to be with this group of girls for these four years.”

The dynamic senior class was represented in every position group and many of them ended with their best season yet.

Fifth-year senior and third-year captain Alyssa Bull ended her decorated career at Rutgers ranked seventh all-time in assists with 20 on her career. The fiery midfielder was also named Second Team All-Big Ten at the end of the regular season.

Also leading this year’s Knights was team captain Devon Freshnock, who earned the Big Ten Sportsmanship Award and was named to the All-Big Ten Tournament Team. The powerhouse defender reached a career high in goals, assists and points in her final season on the Banks.

Forwards Rachel Yaney, Kimberly Jevic and Sarah Regn each set career bests in both goals and assists this season. Yaney finished her career ranked seventh in the Rutgers record books with 22 career goals.

Elyse Broderick matched her career high in assists and points this season after transitioning from defense up to midfield this season. She notched a defensive save against Maryland in the Big Ten Championship Quarterfinals to keep the Terps from tallying a fourth goal.

Defender Sophia Walia led the team with a career-high seven assists and ended her time at the Knights ranked eight in assists.

Although she was battling a shoulder injury all season, Hayes was able to see action in nine games this season. The Melbourne, Australia, native boasted a .756 save percentage and earned a shutout against Richmond on Senior Day.

A major difference for Rutgers this year was the strong team dynamic created by the mix of rookie and veteran talent. Throughout the season, there was at least one freshman starting in each position group, including goalie.

Leading this year’s Knights was a powerhouse veteran unit that rounded out their legacy on the program with a groundbreaking 2016 season. Moving forward, the potential for Rutgers will only continue to cultivate.

“I said from the beginning that this team was incredibly special to me — just this group of seniors who were my first recruiting class and played with me for four years here at Rutgers,” Civico said. “(Their impact was) just getting us to that next level and I think leaving a legacy here and building a competitive program … I’m really proud of what they’ve been able to accomplish. They left this program way better than when they found it and that’s success in my book.”

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

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