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Rutgers Field Hockey Season Preview

After making the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time since 1986, this year’s team is determined to build off of that success.

Rich Graessle/Rutgers Athletics

The 19th ranked Rutgers field hockey team begins its 2019 campaign this Friday at noon at home against no. 24 Maine. It’s one of eleven scheduled opponents that are ranked in the initial NFCHA Coaches poll this season. Ten were ranked to end last season, so it certainly will be a challenge for this team to equal or even surpass the success from a year ago. That being said, this team has embraced that challenge and has plenty of experience and talent on this season’s roster.

The Scarlet Knights are led by head coach Meredith Civico, who engineered the program’s first NCAA appearance in 32 years last season, finishing with a 13-6 record. Rutgers did lose its top three scorers from last season in Daphne Groothuis, Linda van Shaike and Nikki Profita, who accounted for 27 of the team’s 50 goals in 2018. However, they are adding two key players poised to make an impact this fall to go along with a strong core of returning players.

“I’m really excited about this group. We have a lot of experience returning”, said Civico. She added, “having Katie Larmour back has been especially exciting. Clayre Smith as well, who was a transfer and had to sit last year. Those two players in the lineup, obviously didn’t play last season, but they have a ton of experience.”

Larmour, a redshirt junior who has almost 30 starts in her career, missed all but one game last season due to injury. She is excited about being back and was positive about the team overall. “We looked like a completely different team in our second scrimmage against Syracuse and that was a big positive going into this opening weekend.”

In regard to how Rutgers will replace it’s scoring production, Civico named several players ready to fill the void. “Throughout the preseason, Alanna Gollotto has been performing really well and is also a captain. I expect that she will provide a lot of leadership. She always plays with a lot of grit and energy. She really wants to win and really drives this group of forwards.”

Civico continued, “Clayre Smith has been playing really well last spring and throughout the preseason. Kassidy Shetler has impressed us everyday in training. Rachel Houston is a freshman from Northern Ireland who is really exciting. She is a natural forward who likes to score goals. She has fantastic instincts, can press, swings at everything, so I think she will add a lot to that group.”

In regard to additional newcomers that could step up and help right away, Gollotto said, “Maggie Long is going to come in and do well in our midfield rotation.” She also mentioned the return of Larmour, saying she is “a huge key to our success.”

Larmour mentioned Rachel Houston as well, saying “she is really hungry and has a great eye for scoring goals. She’ll take whatever she is given in the circle and swing at anything. We need that goal scoring mentality.” Larmour said the overall impact of the freshman has been huge, saying “Maggie Lamb, Annie Walsh, Amanda Beck, and Isabella Mancini have all really stepped up. It’s a not given every returning player will keep their spot. These freshmen are pushing for places. It’s unfair to say who might make an impact among them because I think they all already have.”

Having the newcomers be able to step in so quickly for this season was all part of the plan of Civico. “We had all of our freshmen except one on campus this summer in school and training with the team”, she explained. Continuing, “they have seamlessly fit right in this preseason. Having that jump has really helped them fit into the team. The culture is stronger than ever and are a very tight knit group who really want to win. That culture has been one of our biggest strengths throughout the preseason.”

As far as defensively, Rutgers returns First Team All-Big Ten and First Team All-Region goalkeeper Gianna Glatz. She had the fifth best save percentage in the country last season at .785, allowed just 1.27 goals per game and posted nine shutouts. In addition, the back line returns everyone from a group that was seventh in the country in goals allowed last season. They are led by Austyn Cuneo and Kerrie Burns.

In asking Civico how she felt about the team from a defensive perspective, she didn’t mince words, stating that she was “really confident. I think the defensive group is playing so well together. It’s a strong unit and they have so much confidence in each other. They have a lot of trust with each other. We saw it increase and improve even more in the two preseason scrimmages. We played Syracuse this weekend and I thought that group did a fantastic job leading out of the back. I think we will continue to improve in that area and be a strength for us again. They are a tight group on and off the field and aren’t letting the ball in the goal.”

Rutgers had three players selected for Big Ten preseason honors in Glatz, Larmour and Cuneo.

In regard to Rutgers playing five ranked non-conference foes in nine games total, Civico made it clear it was intentional by stating, “to be the best, you have to play the best and beat the best, which is our philosophy when it comes to scheduling.” She explained the strategy behind by saying, “we want to make sure that we are improving week to week and our non-conference schedule is really preparing us and setting us up for success in our conference. The Big Ten is one of the best in the country and we want to make sure every team we are playing helps us to learn and grow each weekend.”

One difference this preseason has been dealing with increased expectations after a breakthrough season a year ago. Gollotto said, “I think we set a standard for ourselves last year, so coming into this year we know we want to either keep that standard or even surpass those expectations. There is more pressure on us which is good because it’s going to make us word harder to exceed those expectations.”

Larmour agreed, saying “we can’t just take it as a given that the same success is going to happen this season. The Big Ten is a really competitive conference with teams having very similar playing styles, so no game is going to be easy. We have to go into every game hungry and continuing to motivate our teammates to stay as competitive as possible.”

The biggest question this season is whether Rutgers can replicate last season’s success despite losing so much offensive production, even with one of the best defenses in the country, let alone the Big Ten. The players seem undaunted by the challenge and certainly are aiming high for a second consecutive season.

As far as where this team wants to ultimately end up at the end of the season, Gollotto stated, “our goal is to win as many games as we can and that will lead to doing well in the Big Ten and getting back to the NCAA Tournament. Hopefully go farther than we did last season.”

Larmour was more blunt, saying “it’s about time Rutgers has a Big Ten champion and I would be absolutely thrilled for it to be the field hockey program that does it.”

Civico did not shy away from expectations or team goals either, explaining “this team wants to be competing for a Big Ten Championship and an NCAA Championship. There is no question. We’ve really spent a lot of time identifying our core values and the things that will get us to where we want to go. That’s been the focus. We have that ultimate goal, but we’ve been working on and assessing our core values, which is what is really driving the team.”

As for this weekend, Rutgers takes on Ball State one day after it’s opener, with both games at home. It’s a perfect way to start for a team that’s embracing the details. “We are opening up against Maine who is ranked, so we are really looking forward to playing them”, said Civico. She added, “I think our mentality is taking it one game at a time and Maine is our focus. We are just doing everything we can this week to prepare as hard as we can.”

It should be an exciting season for the field hockey team. If Rutgers can stay focused on building off of last season’s success and continue to improve, they’ll ultimately assert themselves as one of the best programs not just in the Big Ten, but in the country.