Despite being nationally ranked in the top 12 all of last season and finishing a program best no. 7 in the country at the end, the Rutgers field hockey team didn’t come close to accomplishing what they set out to do last spring. After beating Big Ten foe Northwestern twice, earning the highest ranked victories in program history in the process, the Scarlet Knights fell painfully short in a 2-1 loss to the Wildcats in the Big Ten Quarterfinals. That game ended up serving as a play-in game for the NCAA Tournament, as Northwestern made a Covid-shortened field of 12 while Rutgers was left on the outside looking in.
“I felt we dominated and it didn’t go our way. It was so devastating,” said tenth year head coach Meredith Civico. “I remember being in that huddle and no one could speak. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a huddle where every single player was equally heartbroken. It was devastating but at the same time, we knew that the seniors were determined to come back. We knew we’d have one more opportunity together with this group, so there was also that feeling of having another chance with this team and these players. It was devastating but equally exciting because we knew we were going to be together again.”
One of those seniors returning is forward Katie Larmour, who is in her sixth year after enduring a medical redshirt year in 2018. The Belfast, Ireland native is a two time First Team All-Big Ten selection who along with goalkeeper Gianna Glatz, was named as a First Team All-American last spring. Larmour indicated that the ending will only help this team this season, stating, “I think it has really fueled the fire. We know what we are capable of and while we were frustrated with how last season ended, it only showed us we were right where we needed to be at the end and that we can only get better.”
Civico added, “We weren’t satisfied at all. We knew that game didn’t go our way but that we were a great team. We watched Michigan go on to play in the national title game and that was amazing. We’re there, that could have been us. That optimism of we are right there. One goal, one point, one moment that changes the outcome of the game. To play some really incredible hockey and beat some really great teams, not once but twice (both Penn State and Northwestern ranked in the top ten nationally), we really proved to ourselves that we are in a position as a program to compete and beat anybody.”
She continued, “There is no reason why we can’t be competing for a national championship this season and a Big Ten championship. That’s really been the focus of this program over last season and certainly coming into this season.”
Rutgers returns five super seniors who have helped to transform the program since their arrival. “In addition to Glatz, Larmour, and Kerrie Burns, Civico pointed out that “Gianna Mancini and Kassidy Shetler are great players and great people. We have incredible leadership and incredible experience on this team. I’m really excited.”
As for the impact that the core group of seniors has on the field, Civico said, “I think their experience and leadership on the field. Their tactical understanding of the game allows them to coach the team on the field. They have that level of understanding. They have that knowledge. We’re constantly talking to them about the team and what they feel our strengths are. How they want to play and can get the most out of them as individuals as well as how they’re impacting the team. They are an incredible group of players.”
Burns, a key back in defense, made Second Team All-Big Ten and Second Team All-Region last season. She thinks that the shortened offseason due to COVID pushing play to the spring from last fall only helps this team because of how experienced they are.
“I think from having the season we did in the spring by playing our best hockey and best finish in program history at no. 7 in the country, I feel like we have a lot of momentum going into this season,” said Burns. “Of course, there is the con of not having that downtime but we’ve worked close with our strength and conditioning to come back just as fit as we were in the spring.”
Larmour agreed, adding “It meant we never really deconditioned, which is really good.”
Aside from the group of super seniors, key fourth year seniors who have returned are leading scorer and Third Team All-American Milena Redlingshoefer, as well as two key backs in Abby Regn and Liz Romano.
Civico said of all the veterans on the team, “What’s so special about them is their culture and the way they are off the field. They’re so close and such a family. When the freshmen come in, it is welcoming and ‘this is the way it is. You are one of us.’ Everyone is able to come in and feel comfortable right away. I think because of that they can perform immediately.”
Regarding the progress that Civico has made with the program over the last decade on the job, she commented, “We have a special group. This culture has been building. I can’t believe it’s been ten years . I was thinking about where we were back then and what we were focused on. It was so different. We were just beginning to build and now we are in this position ten years later to compete for a big ten and national championship. It’s there. It’s incredible in what we’ve been able to do as a program. That’s the players in our program and the culture that they’ve created.”
Adding several newcomers to this season’s roster gives the Scarlet Knights even more opportunity to improve.
“We have some fun newcomers who have come in and impacted the team immediately,” said Civico. “When I look at the depth we have this season and watching what some of these young players are doing in practice, I’m just excited about our potential as a team.”
A key to Rutgers taking the next step this season in competing for championships is developing a more consistent scoring attack. The defense has been elite with Glatz in goal and a strong backline. The difference has been offensively needing to come through more consistently. There should be hope that will be the case this fall.
Civico explained the difference with this team compared to last season in saying, “We are able to get forward a lot more out of the backfield. We can press a lot higher and be more aggressive. We’ve had come technically gifted players come in.”
Two newcomers from overseas are poised to make a big impact.
“Iris Langejans, a transfer from the Netherlands is a fun player who is always attacking. Right now she is playing right halfback so she attacks out of the backfield,” said Civico. “She is super fast and really skillful. She is really allowing us to play an attacking style on the outside. Lucy Bannatyne is a freshman from New Zealand. She is so strong and so fast. I think she is going to score some goals this season.
Civico indicated several returning players that haven’t played as much in the past are ready to make an impact this season as well.
“Carly Snarski and Maggie Lamb are a pair of rising juniors who have really developed over the last year.” She continued, “Snarski used to be an ice hockey player and has a soccer background. She didn’t start playing field hockey until she was in high school. She started really late but is really smart, has incredible vision, incredible touch and a great nose for the goal. She is fun player who is unconventional and played really well in the preseason. Lamb is as well. Technically a great player. Super nice on the ball. She’s been playing well. Rachel Houston is another rising junior who has worked incredibly hard over the summer. She is super fit and is playing with a lot of energy and confidence right now.”
The leadership of the core group of super seniors are key to ensuring whoever is out on the field is comfortable in being there. “They are very encouraging of our young players,” said Civico. “They really have helped them along and want the team to be great. Whoever is going to come in and help the team, they want to encourage them and help build them up. When your older players are giving your younger players confidence, I think you are going to be a good team.”
She added, “We have a good mix of players wanting to make an impact. We have a little bit of everything.”
Burns agreed that the team is well balanced, stating “I think our chemistry on the field is great. We are used to playing with each other. We basically have the same starting lineup as last year with the addition of a few internationals. I think this preseason is the best one we’ve had yet. Making early connections, I think we are actually further ahead from where we ended up last season because of that returning group, but also having a new, fresh look from our incoming freshmen.”
Asked if this is her deepest team, Civico answered with little hesitation. “Absolutely. We can get into the bench, which is really exciting,” she said. “I think we can really change some players around where we have midfielders that can play upfront. We can interchange quite a bit more and be more a lot more fluid in the way we play as well.”
Civico won a national championship as a player at Maryland in 2005 and went to three consecutive Final Fours. When asked to compare this Rutgers team to the national title team she played on, she said that she sees many similarities.
“One of the things for me as a player at Maryland was that the coaches didn’t have to do much to motivate us or to get us excited about anything. It was really team led and player driven. I see that at Rutgers.” Civico continued, “It’s about what a team has off the field. You obviously know when you have talent and have great players, which is an important piece to win championships. But when you have that tightness, closeness, selflessness and that culture that wins championships, I see that at Rutgers and with this team. They might not have the experience of playing in a title game yet, but they have everything that it takes. They have all the ingredients we just have to put it together the right way but I believe it is there. We are at the same level of talent as that team.”
The road to a championship begins this weekend. Rutgers has six non-conference road games this season and start off the campaign facing Duke and Richmond in Durham, North Carolina this Friday and Saturday.
Civico explained why she booked such a challenging non-conference slate, stating, “We want to win the Big Ten and get the automatic bid if we can, that’s the objective. We also have to schedule by preparing for Big Ten play but also putting ourselves in a position to get into the NCAA Tournament with an at-large berth if possible. We are playing the top teams in the region. UConn is always great and we have a bit of a rivalry with them now. Princeton is always a tremendous game and are a great side.”
Opening the season against No. 12 Duke on the road is an immediate test that should help put Rutgers in a postseason mindset from the beginning.
“You always want to play those ACC teams because it’s always a constant battle with the Big Ten as to which is the top conference,” said Civico. “We have Duke and Syracuse on the schedule. I think that will really prepare us for both conference and postseason play. Those are teams we could potentially see in the NCAA Tournament. So is Delaware if they win the CAA, they’re in our region. If St. Joe’s wins the Atlantic 10, they’re in our region. The schedule puts us in a position to play and compete with the top teams in our region, which is really important.”
Rutgers will open the fall campaign without Glatz in goal, the most valuable player over the last few seasons. She is currently in goal for Team USA at the Junior Pan American Championships in Santiago, Chile. RU assistant coach Maddy Sposito is there as well on staff. Without Glatz this weekend, it’s an opportunity for her backup to step up.
“Sophia Howard will be in goal for us,” said Civico. “She has had an amazing preseason and played in both scrimmages that we have had. She has a little bit of a different style of goalkeeping to Gianna. Great communicator, super confident. She is super poised and the team has tremendous confidence in her. I’m excited for her to come in and play. We have great depth with players that can step in and perform. It’s a great thing.”
Duke will also be without All-ACC performer Leah Crouse, who is on Team USA with Glatz.
The Scarlet Knights are ready to hit the ground running this weekend and Burns explained why.
“The coaching staff has really pushed us this year. They know what we are capable of. We know what we are capable of as a team,” she said. “Looking after our bodies. Anything our coaches are telling us, applying it to scrimmages and in games. I think we always know if we can go out there and give it our best, we are going to get the best results out of it especially against the top programs in the country.”
Larmour indicated what she thinks has changed about this team, stating, “The belief now at this point. We are a totally different program from even the 2018 team that went to the NCAA Tournament. It’s the belief we can do it and deserve to be there.”
In having one more opportunity for this group to win a championship and make program history, Larmour said they are well aware of what is in front of them.
“I think as a upperclassmen, you realize playing an NCAA sport is a finite amount of time. The fact that we have this extra opportunity I’m so grateful.” She added, “It is like a second chance, a last chance to get to where we need to be. That sense of urgency can be used in a really good way.”
This Rutgers field hockey team will look to continue to earn respect this season with every victory. Despite finishing no. 7 last season with all of their top players returning, they opened as no. 15 in the preseason poll. None of that matters and this team has their sights set on bigger goals. How will they ultimately get there?
“Compete one day at a time, one game at a time and that belief that they can do it,” said Civico. “I think they have that. They’ve got the chemistry, the work ethic, the leadership, the talent level, and they just have to go out every single time and compete as hard as they can. That’s all we can control and that’s the plan. Every day we step on the field, be the best that we can be.”
If Rutgers can achieve their full potential this season, there is no reason to doubt that it can win a Big Ten championship and make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Could the ultimate goal of winning a national title be a possibility?
“We have all the ingredients,” said Civico.
With the veteran coach who has taken the program from irrelevance to firmly in the national title picture over the last decade, Rutgers fans should follow her players lead. Believe.