No. 18 Rutgers prepares for 2 games in Iowa

The Rutgers field hockey team has a busy schedule for this upcoming weekend. As they head to Iowa City, Iowa, to take on No. 7 Iowa on Friday, the No. 18 Scarlet Knights (4-4, 0-1) will also play on Saturday against UC Davis. 

Rutgers has had a tough schedule this season, and has played six ranked teams, with four of those teams being ranked in the top 10 in the country. With one top-10 win against No. 12 Princeton, the Knights were on a roll, but once they played No. 4 Maryland, they lost their streak.

This will be the second time this season that Rutgers will be playing games on back-to-back days. The first time was to start the season against Maine and Ball State. 

The Knights came out with wins for both. The only difference between the last back-to-back games and this one is that now they are away.

With the first game against the Hawkeyes (7-2, 2-0), Rutgers will need to be ready for anything that comes its way. So far this season, Iowa has played against five ranked teams and only three of them were top-10. 

Another benefit for the Hawkeyes is the fact that their two most recent games have been at home and now they’re playing on their own field for two more games.

Having the home field advantage has a lot of benefits, especially when the team would have to travel across half the country like both the Knights and the Aggies (5-3). While Rutgers is 2-2 for both home and away games, these two games to be deciding factors on how successful they are away from home.

UC Davis has a 3-2 away record, which is impressive considering it has only had one home game for its season. On the other hand, Iowa does not have an away game record, but in neutral locations, they are 2-1. 

The Hawkeyes also have a 5-1 home game record, so they are very comfortable on their home turf.

Some players for the Knights to look out for on the Iowa team are Sofie Sunderland and Katie Birch. Sunderland and Birch have 9 goals between them. 

Birch then takes the lead and has six assists, 21 shots and 14 points to her name. Both players are consistently on the top of the leader board and take control of the field.

With the Aggies, the players to watch are Sara Janetzky and Shannon Wong. Between them, they have 4 goals and one assist, but the fact that their numbers are much lower than Iowa’s doesn’t mean they aren’t a threat to Rutgers. 

In comparison to the two teams, the Knights have fifth-year senior back Austyn Cuneo and junior midfielder Katie Larmour with 8 goals between them and 4 for each. Cuneo also has four assists for this season.

Just based on these statistics, it's a close game to call for both teams. The strongest players on all three teams are neck-and-neck with the game, and this weekend will be a clear tell on which team can pull through.

Last year, Rutgers took over the Hawkeyes and beat them 1-0, and that was also when Iowa was ranked No. 7. The same thing happened a year prior when the Hawkeyes were ranked No. 19. The last time Iowa defeated  the Knights was back in 2015 with a 4-3 loss to No. 16 in the country.

While Rutgers has not played UC Davis, it means that it isn’t used to its playing style or coaching style, which could pose as a threat even though the Knights have a higher ranking.

There is definitely some uncertainty going into this weekend, but there are two opportunities for Rutgers to show up and take the lead with the ranking that it earned. Even though it beat the Tigers, it doesn’t mean that the Hawkeyes will be any easier.

Next weekend, the Knights will be back in Piscataway for a game against Indiana and No. 5 Northwestern.

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

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