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Rutgers Olympic Sports: who’s up, who’s down? Part 2

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The fall season is over and, except for women’s soccer, it was a season of ups and more than a few downs. Now the question needs to be asked: where are we going?

NCAA Women's Volleyball - Divison I Championship - Nebraska vs Washington Photo by Darren Abate/Getty Images

Yesterday we posted a brief review of the fall sports that generally fall outside the view of many fans: Cross Country, Field Hockey, and Volleyball. We also looked at Men’s Soccer which had a poor season in 2016. And we asked what the trajectory was on these sports? Where is Rutgers heading with these Olympic sports that a) don’t get a lot of attention and b) haven’t had that much recent success?

Let’s start our look with Field Hockey. In 2015, the Rutgers squad went 7-11 overall, 0-8 in the Big Ten. This year saw a fairly nice turnaround as the squad went 9-9 with a 2-6 record in conference. Of greater significance than the record is the overall performance and perception of Head Coach Meredith Civico’s team. The team’s RPI last year was 45. It jumped 16 spots in 2016.

Just as scoring was a clear indicator of men’s soccer’s issues, so it was with field hockey. Along with a better defense, the Knights put themselves in a situation to win more games...and they did.

Having an RPI of 29, along with two wins over teams above them in the rankings, and going into OT on the road against NCAA qualifier Virginia are all good signs. The team made the Big Ten tournament. We’ll look at field hockey more later.

Men’s Soccer - a return to glory or a continued slide?

Rutgers Men’s Soccer has been to the Final Four. Three times. Head coach Bob Reasso led RU to 13 NCAA appearances, including the 1990 national championship game. There is a history of success with players like Alexi Lalas, Lino DiCuollo, Bobby Joe Esposito, Pedro Lopes, Dave Masur, and Peter Vermes having graced the field for Rutgers.

In Reasso’s last two season on the sideline, he went 6-9 and 9-10. In Donigan’s first year - with basically Reasso’s team - new head coach Dan Donigan was only 4-11-1. He then had a 10-7-4 season in 2011. But that was followed by three more losing seasons until the turnaround 2015 campaign.

Red dots = Reasso teams Green squares = Donigan teams

Donigan is a good coach, a good recruiter. But his recent history at Rutgers has been trending downward, 2015 the exception. To be honest, I did not expect to see these results for men’s soccer. It is a concern.

Big Ten Volleyball is really good

Eight Big Ten volleyball teams were selected to the 2016 NCAA Volleyball Tournament, including defending national champion Nebraska. Nebraska enters the tournament as the No. 1 overall seed, with No. 2 Minnesota, No. 3 Wisconsin, No. 9 Michigan State, No. 12 Michigan and No. 16 Penn State earning top-16 seeds. Yeah, that’s a really good conference showing.

And it isn’t like this is the first rodeo for these teams.

Rutgers has competed in volleyball since 1977. It’s been to the NCAA Tournament once, in 1982. But remember that before 1982, women’s sports were overseen by the AIAW, and Rutgers did make appearances in the AIAW volleyball championships. In 1980 and 1981. And since it became a member of a conference in 1982, it has a winning percentage of just 23.7%.

So, what is the trajectory?

Right now, for all three sports, there’s a ways to go to be more than just competitive and to be successful on a consistent basis. If you go back to 2008 - the year that CJ Werneke became head coach of the volleyball team - all three teams have had less than stellar results.

The red line on the chart is the .500 mark. Over those nine years, there have only been six seasons in which any of the teams had a .500 or better winning percentage: field hockey twice, men’s soccer three times, and volleyball only once.

As hinted at, 2008 was chosen as the starting point since it was when CJ Werneke became the head coach of volleyball. Werneke is the senior coach among these three; Dan Donigan has been at the helm with men’s soccer since 2010; Meredith Civico of field hockey since 2012.

For volleyball, since its high watermark in 2012, the track has been a steady dose of serious losing. Men’s soccer, has also been on a five-year decline, with last season being a dramatic outlier. Field hockey, while still sporting a losing record, has been closer to success than any of the three, with two .500 seasons in the last four.

What’s the issue?

Money? Both volleyball and field hockey are allowed 12 scholarships; the latest NCAA report indicates RU has 11.53 in volleyball and 10.76 in field hockey. They both are close but need to be at full strength.

Facilities? Volleyball practices and plays in the College Avenue Gym. Originally included in the new practice facility, they are now supposed to move into the RAC once basketball is out and in the new Performance Center. That’s still a good way off. Field Hockey did a fundraising online to raise funds for its locker room in the RAC. It shares the Bauer Track Complex for its practice and games with track & field. First, a team at a D1 university, in the Big Ten no less, shouldn’t be raising money to upgrade its locker room. Second, the Bauer Track Complex is wa-a-a-a-y sub-par in terms of seating, lights (none), spectator facilities (again, none) and ambiance (none). For either track or field hockey.

By comparison, Michigan State - not a power in field hockey and an upper-middle of the pack team in volleyball - has a full complement of scholarships. And for other expenses, MSU outspends Rutgers in most categories, sometimes by a considerable amount. But is money the answer?

Oh, you’re looking at the table and saying, “Why did he include Delaware?’ Glad you asked. So, to answer the question of whether money is the answer to everything? Not necessarily. For the record, Delaware did make the CAA finals in volleyball this year. And they just won the 2016 national championship in field hockey, defeating North Carolina. Pretty good bang for the buck.

If Rutgers is going to compete and be considered a true peer in athletics in the Big Ten, it needs to....well, compete and be competitive. The Knights are still looking for their first Big Ten team title. Whether it’s money, facilities, coaching, or something else, Pat Hobbs has to look at raising the bar and changing the culture in all areas. The changing culture movement in football and basketball is under way. The movement now needs to spread.