Rutgers opens up Big Ten Tournament with No. 10 Northwestern

Following the Rutgers field hockey team’s 6-0 loss to Maryland on Sunday, head coach Meredith Civico gathered the players and told them, very bluntly, that she was disappointed.

“I told them that this wasn’t representative of Rutgers field hockey,” she said. “This isn’t the type of field hockey we want to play, this isn’t the energy or the effort that we want to put out there, and the team all felt the same way.”

Civico hopes her comments light a fire under her team, as the No. 20 Scarlet Knights (9-8, 3-5) kick off the Big Ten Tournament at No. 10 Northwestern (13-5, 6-2) at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday. They are looking for their first tournament win since joining the conference in 2014, as they are 0-2 since then.

Rutgers previously faced off against the Wildcats in Evanston, Ill., on Sept. 29, a game in which it lost 3-2. Two early Northwestern goals put them in a hole that they could not climb out of. Now they can study film of that game in order to pinpoint how they can come out on top this time.

The more pressing issue, though, is fixing the multitude of mistakes that led to the Knights suffering their biggest defeat since 2015.

“We need to finish on the outcomes we have offensively,” said sophomore forward Nikki Santore. “We need to move up the field together instead of letting one person go against five defenders. We’re in the Big Ten, defenders are good, and we need to work together and we’ll be much more successful.”

Santore also added that the team needed to finish on more penalty corners.

“After games like Sunday, we need to first look at ourselves at individuals and see what we did well and not so well,” said senior midfielder and co-captain Haley Meade. “And then come together as a team and work it out. We can say everything we need to fix, but when it comes time to actually fixing it, the actions don’t speak as loudly as the words and I think that this week we need to see the hockey aspect and what we can do together.”

Civico, on the other hand, stressed the importance of getting rest so that they can train better in the days leading up to the game.

“This was a tough weekend for us, playing our Sunday game against a fresh Maryland team,” she said. “We had two really big conference games this weekend, so we’re going to recover and rest so we can train hard this week.”

If Rutgers wants its season to continue, they will have to get past Northwestern and its star player, junior Puck Pentenga. Pentenga is first in the Big Ten in assists (16), and third in points (34). She scored once in the Wildcats' win over the Knights earlier this season. She also earned Offensive Player of the Week honors from both the Big Ten and the National Field Hockey Coaches Association two weeks ago.

Behind Pentenga are junior Pascale Massey and sophomore Kirsten Mansfield, who are also high on conference leaderboards. Massey is fourth in goals (12) and seventh in points (28), while Mansfield is tied for third in assists (10) and ninth in points (24).

Rutgers has had a successful regular season that included wins against three ranked opponents, but the postseason is a clean slate where anything can happen.

“The mentality has to be that nothing that happened, good or bad this season, matters,” Meade said. “We have to go in mentally and physically prepared and leave it all out on the field.”

And with that very game now having the potential to be the Knights' last this season, the team will put it all on the line to ensure that its season does not end this Sunday.

“We’re going to take it game by game, look at video and see what we’ve got to change, and give it our all,” Santore said. “It’s now or never, if you lose you’re out, so it’s time to show them what we got and take no chances.”

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

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