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Field Hockey NCAA Tournament First Round Preview: #11 Rutgers at #5 UConn

In its first NCAA tournament bid in 32 years, Rutgers will face the defending national champions, UConn, in the opening round Friday afternoon.

Rutgers Athletics

No. 11 Rutgers Field Hockey (13-5) earned their first NCAA bid in 32 years and will open the tournament at No. 5 UConn (18-3) Friday afternoon.

The Huskies won the Big East Tournament, defeating No. 15 Liberty 5-3; this is their seventh straight year winning the conference. UConn went 18-3 overall and 7-0 in conference play. Their only losses came to #3 Maryland, #5 Princeton, and #1 North Carolina.

They are also the defending national champions; they beat Boston University, Penn State, North Carolina, and Maryland en route to the title last season. This is their 16th straight NCAA tournament appearance and have won the title five times, including three of the last five.

Rutgers had an historical season, topping it off with their first NCAA tournament bid since 1986. They went 13-5 overall and 4-4 in the Big Ten, earning one more conference win than last season and four more wins overall. They had five ranked wins, their most in program history, including their highest-ranked win over then No. 6 Princeton, 1-0. Their other ranked wins came against St. Joe’s, Delaware, Northwestern, and Iowa.

“We’re familiar with UConn,” head coach Meredith Civico said. “We’ve scrimmaged them the past two years. They’re very similar to our playing philosophies. They play a real structured, possession oriented game. They move the ball well and are really organized on attack and defense. They’re a great team and consistently in the final for the past couple of years. We played them in preseason and went into shootouts with them, so I know the team has confidence from that experience. We’ve been training really hard since the Big Ten Tournament and preparing to play in NCAAs. It should be a great game.”

Rutgers lead the nation with a team .838 save percentage, are second with nine shutouts, and is fifth with a goals against average of .970. Their nine shutouts are the most they’ve had in a single season since 1993. They have been excellent defensively, led by sophomore goalkeeper Gianna Glatz. Glatz is third in the nation with an .811 save percentage and seventh with a goals against average of 1.05. Glatz was also named to the First All-Big Ten team; Daphne Groothuis, Linde van Schaik, and Nikki Profita also received All-Big Ten honors.

Groothuis led the team offensively with 12 goals and 37 points. van Schaik has seven goals and 20 points, and has 24 career goals, only one away from sixth most in program history. They are followed by Profita (eight goals, 19 points) and Austyn Cuneo (six goals and 14 points).

The Scarlet Knights entered the Big Ten Tournament two weekends ago as the #5 seed and were set to face #4 Ohio State, who had won their previous matchup in a penalty shootout. The first round was a defensive battle with neither team scoring in regulation but the Buckeyes came out on top in double overtime. It was another heartbreaking loss for Rutgers, who fell 4-3 to Northwestern in the tournament opener last season.

UConn is 27-2-1 all-time against Rutgers although the two teams haven’t played each other since 2013, a 2-0 Huskies win. Rutgers hasn’t won since 2001. While Rutgers has one of the nation’s top defenses, UConn has been excellent offensively and Friday’s game should be a tough battle. They are second in the nation in scoring average per game at 4.52.

UConn’s leading scorer Cecile Pieper, an Olympian, had 22 goals and 55 points; she averaged 2.6 points per game and was named the Big East Defensive Player of the Year. Pieper is followed by Svea Boker, who has 17 goals and 49 points.

“We’re ready,” First Team All-Big Ten goalkeeper Gianna Glatz said. “We played them in the preseason so we know their tendencies. I think it’s a great matchup for us. We know they play, so we know how we need to play against them and what adjustments we need to make to get the job done.”

Pieper and Boker, in addition to Cheynne Sprecher, Amanda Collins, and Amelia Iacobucci, were named to the All-Big East First Team. Sprecher earned the conference’s Freshman of the Year honors; she played all 21 games, and posted a 1.31 goals against average (11th in the country) and a .748 save percentage (18th in the country).

Head Coach Nancy Stevens won her 500th game at UConn in the Big East Championship game against Liberty and her coaching staff were named the conference’s coaching staff of the year.

The game is set to begin at 2:30PM Friday afternoon at College Park, Maryland. Tickets can be bought here and the game will be streamed live online via BTN2Go. The winner will face either Albany (16-4) or Big Ten champs Maryland (19-2).