PISCATAWAY, N.J. (August 27, 2014) –As the Rutgers field hockey program enters its first season of Big Ten competition, the Scarlet Knights will surround key returners with a talented young core. After last season’s squad tallied the first .500 record for the program since 2008, the Scarlet Knights are looking to continue trending upwards. Building off of last year’s accomplishments, Rutgers field hockey is eager to take the new conference by storm.
“I’m really excited about taking this team in particular into the Big Ten Conference,” head coach Meredith Long said. “We gained a tremendous amount of experience last season, particularly our freshman class, which played a considerable amount of minutes against some of the top teams in the country. We just came up short a few times in those big games. This is a group that will take a lot of confidence from our season last year and apply that experience and knowledge going into the Big Ten. “
The Scarlet Knights will be part of an eight-team field hockey membership, joining new foes Iowa, Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Maryland, and Indiana. The conference will pose a stiff test right away, as six conference teams are ranked in the top 20 of the 2014 NFHCA Preseason Poll.
“It’s exciting,” Coach Long said. “We haven’t seen a lot of these teams in a long time, and they haven’t seen us. We have an advantage there. I’m looking forward to competing against all these teams. It’s a competitive conference across the board. It’s an exciting conference in that anyone can beat anyone on a given day. The Big Ten is fast and aggressive. We’re that type of team, and I think we’ll fit really nicely. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
In addition to the Big Ten slate, the Scarlet Knights will also challenge themselves in non-conference play. Overall, Rutgers will ace eight teams that finished the 2013 season in the NFHCA Top 25, including five that made the NCAA Tournament last season (Virginia, New Hampshire, Michigan State, Penn State, Maryland, and ). The squad plays 18 regular season games, including 12 at home and six on the road.
The Scarlet Knights will look to their two seniors for leadership this season: Sophie Wright (Devizes, United Kingdom) and Jenn Staab (Marmora, N.J.). Wright was the leading scorer for the Scarlet Knights last season as a junior, when she set career bests with nine goals and 19 points. She had two multi-goal games, against La Salle and Georgetown, and was named Second Team All-Big East and Second Team All-Mid-Atlantic Region. Staab is a fixture in Coach Long’s lineup, starting 53 of her 55 collegiate games. Her consistency is a key to the Scarlet Knight midfield.
“We have two fantastic seniors serving as captains,” Coach Long explained. “You couldn’t ask for a better two players to lead us into the Big Ten.”
Joining Wright and Staab as a team captain is redshirt sophomore Alyssa Bull (Oakville, Ontario). Bull burst onto the scene as a freshman in 2012, when she was named Big East Rookie of the Year and Second Team All-Big East after scoring five goals and a team-leading seven assists. Last season, and injury suffered in the season opener against Boston College caused her to take a redshirt season, and she will look to regain her form this season.
Also key to the team’s attack is sophomore Rachel Yaney (Bridgewater, N.J.) and junior Katie Champion (Egg Harbor Township, N.J.). Yaney found the net five times last season, while Champion added four goals of her own. Nicole Imbracio (Clark, N.J) and Sarah Regn (Shamong, N.J.) each return after scoring a pair of goals last season.
“Our two senior captains, Jen Staab and Sophie Wright certainly play a key role for us in the midfield,” Coach Long said. “Rachel Yaney is always an exciting player to watch. She can play both midfield and in the forward line. Katie Champion returning as a junior is always an exciting player as well. They’ve gained a lot of experience in the last two seasons, and we’re looking for them to take on a leadership role. We have players who can create scoring opportunities. We’re creating opportunities and we’re generating opportunities. That’s a big focus this year.”
Defensively the backline is anchored by Sofia Walia (Surrey, British Columbia). Walia was a key for a defense that allowed just 1.83 goals per game, and was recognized as Second Team All-Big East last season. Alongside her is Devon Freshnock (Middletown, N.J.) who played a key role while starting 17 games as a freshman, and junior Ali Stever (Ocean City, N.J.). The key for Rutgers will be an accession in the goalkeeper position.
With the graduation of goalkeeper Sarah Stuby, sophomore Shevaun Hayes (Melbourne, Australia) is poised to take over in the cage. In her freshman campaign, Hayes flashed her potential to be a strong backbone for the Scarlet Knights defense this season. She notched 39 saves in six starts, including 13 vs. No. 5 Old Dominion, and amassed a 150 minute shutout streak in consecutive games against Villanova and No. 16 Drexel that earned her conference defensive player of the week honors.
“She’s ready for it,” Coach Long said. “She was ready as a freshman. She’s a real competitor, even in training session she competes like it’s the conference championships. She’s keen to step in and make an impact right away.”
In addition to a strong group of returners, Coach Long brought in a dynamic group of newcomers, featuring two highly decorated transfers. Jasmine Cole (Montclair, N.J.) enters the program after being named Co-Ivy League Rookie of the Year, and was First Team All-Ivy after leading the Quakers with 18 goals and 39 points. Kimberly Jevic (Voorhees, N.J.) joins the Scarlet Knights after playing nine games last season at Northeastern.
“We have two transfers, which is definitely rare,” Coach Long said. “Both Jasmine Cole and Kimberly Jevic are from New Jersey. I coached them in the US Futures Development Program. Jasmine is always in the right place at the right time, a natural goal scorer. Both are really competitive women who are really excited to be part of what we’re doing here at Rutgers.
The Scarlet Knights will supplement their two transfers with six newcomers this season. Five of the six players are in-state, including some with an immediate chance to contribute.
“The freshmen are just excited to be a part of a program in the Big Ten,” Coach Long said. “Jade Dixon (Berlin, N.J.) is a phenomenal player, phenomenal skill in the circle. We just need players on the other end to frame up in front of the cage and just finish. We’ll get that with Jade. I’m excited to have her join some other players with those finishing skills up there. Their energy is going to provide a spark. That will provide some energy and excitement.”
Overall, the Scarlet Knights are looking to take a step forward this season. As they embark on the inaugural season in the Big Ten, Rutgers has the right mix of leadership, experience, and up-and-coming stars to make a B1G impact.