The week long wait was ultimately worth it. After producing one of the best seasons in program history, the Rutgers field hockey team earned its first NCAA Tournament bid in 32 years on Sunday night, when the 18 team field was announced.
Rutgers will face the Big East champion and defending national champion UConn Huskies (18-3) this Friday at 2:30 p.m. in College Park, Maryland. The winner will face the winner of the First Round match between Albany (16-4) and Maryland (19-2).
After finishing the season with a 13-5 record and five wins over ranked opponents, including two in the top ten, Rutgers earned one of eight at-large bids. The Big Ten earned four of those eight, as Penn State, Michigan, and Iowa joined Rutgers and conference tournament champion Maryland in the field. The Big Ten has more teams in the NCAA Tournament than any other conference.
“I’m really excited,” head coach Meredith Civico said. “I’m really proud of this team. I really felt like they deserved this after we had such a great season. It’s really exciting that we get to keep playing. That’s something this group has never felt before, so for them to be in this position, I’m really proud and excited for them. When I came in and we took over this program, the goal was to build a team that could compete for Big Ten and NCAA Championships. I’d like to think that this is now the standard. For the freshmen, this is something that becomes the norm. I’m really happy that this group of seniors was able to experience it because helped elevate this program to the next level and they deserve It because of their leadership and dedication to the team. It’s really exciting to get to play in the postseason. For the team to have that experience is really important for going forward.”
While coach Civico takes Rutgers to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in over three decades, she is no stranger to it. She played in three Final Fours as a player at Maryland, including being a key member of the 2005 national championship team. Playing this First Round match at Maryland brings things full circle for Civico, who has completely turned around the Rutgers program in her seven years at the helm.
“It’s incredible,” senior co-captain Nikki Profita said. That moment, seeing our name on the screen was just so reliving, outstanding, amazing. This has been a goal of ours, and to reach it is just outstanding. For us to do this with this group, especially for me in my senior year, there’s no better way to go out. As long as we can keep going, I’ll be happy. We’ll refocus now. We’ve been practicing blind this last week, not knowing who the next opponent would be. Now knowing that we got to this point, we’re there. We played UConn tough in the preseason scrimmage, but so much has changed throughout the season. We’ve grown, they’ve grown. Now we just have to get after it.”
The Scarlet Knights went 3-3 against teams that made the NCAA Tournament, beating Iowa, Princeton, and St. Joseph’s, while losing to Michigan, Penn State, and Maryland. They tied for the lead in the nation with nine shutouts this season and had multiple players earn All-Big Ten season honors, including midfielder Daphne Groothuis and goalkeeper Gianna Glatz being named to the First Team.
Rutgers is 2-2 all-time in NCAA Tournament history, winning both their First Round matches in 1984 & 1986, their only two appearances, before losing in the round of eight both times.
Here is a snapshot of the side of the bracket that Rutgers is on. We will have a full preview of the First Round match against UConn on Thursday.