With her first recruiting class and the $13-million
Hale Center expansion at her disposal, head field hockey coach
Liz Tchou has every reason to enter her second season with the
same unabashed enthusiasm she has displayed since her hiring in
April of 2003.
A New Jersey native, Tchou inherited a team that had won just seven games over the past two seasons. By the mid-season mark in 2003, the Scarlet Knights were already over .500, and managed to end their season on a high note by qualifying for the BIG EAST Tournament in Chestnut Hill, MA.
Looking to fill the void left by seven seniors, Tchou and her staff recruited tirelessly in the off-season. The result was an 11-member freshmen class that features seven players who are New Jersey natives. Coupled with seven returning letterwinners, Rutgers will feature a blend of youthful enthusiasm and veteran leadership when it lifts the curtain on its 2004 season Aug. 28 against Georgetown.
“ It’s going to be a year of teaching the basics,” said Tchou. “We have to integrate the freshman into our system and allow them the time to adjust to the college experience. The returning players should benefit from an entire spring focused on individual skill work. We want every player to get better throught the season.”
On paper, the strength of the Scarlet Knights this season could be on defense, which boasts the return of senior Tiffany Klebez (Milford, PA), who is on pace to challenge the career record for defensive saves. Over the past two seasons, nobody has been as durable as Klebez, who has started 38 of the past 39 games. She finished 11th nationally with six defensive saves last fall, and needs nine this season to tie Brandi Bailey (24, 1993-96) for the all-time record.
Kara Spector (Easton, MD), RU's most improved player in 2003, is the other returning letterwinner with significant experience. The remainder of the RU defense will be young, as Tchou must replace starters Colleen Maniere, Ashley Recker and Kamilah Lalani. To do so, sophomore Kirsten Graham (Cinaminson, NJ) along with freshmen Catherine Badolato (Berlin, NJ), Katie Murphy (Medford, NJ), Jocelyn Mattina (Bethlehem, PA) and Marielle Zibman (Princeton Junction, NJ) will be counted on to have an immediate impact following decorated scholastic careers.
“ Defensively, we will do a lot of the same things that worked last year,” said Tchou. “In the beginning of the year, much of it will depend on who is playing well together. When we find the right combinations, this is a team that will be comfortable defending as a unit.”
The graduation of Meris Burton left a void in goal, but a pair of freshmen - Kristin Van Rooij (The Netherlands) and Rosalyn Wentko (Dallas, PA) - will vie for the starting spot when practice opens in August.
Despite losing her top three scorers, Tchou figures to have several options on offense, led by forward Mary Szymonowicz (Piscataway, NJ), who had seven points last year (three goals, one assist). A transfer who spent one season at Kent State, Szymonowicz has started all 39 games of her Scarlet Knight career.
Additional offense will come from senior Jaime Fraser (Voorhees, NJ) and juniors Bobbi Jo Adams (Port Norris, NJ) and Heather Graver (Vincentown, NJ). The return of sophomore Katie Morad (Marlton, NJ) following a redshirt season and the arrival of four talented freshmen who can play multiple positions will make RU a dangerous offensive team.
Jessica Roos (Mickleton, NJ) had a stellar high school career, capped off by her first team all-state selection from the Star-Ledger last fall. Additionally, classmates Carrie Grainger (Island Heights, NJ) and Jennifer Powell (Pocomoke City, MD) will have a chance to make an instant offensive impact.
Corinne Bach (Moorestown, NJ) and Caitlin Browne (Middletown, NJ) are two highly-touted freshmen who can play in the midfield or on defense.
“ I think we will be a better attacking team this season,” said Tchou. “We will spend most of the time early in the season getting our chemistry together. It’s a very exciting group with a lot of potential.”
Rutgers’ 2004 schedule is highlighted by 11 home contests, including games against national-powers Michigan State, Delaware and Boston College. The Scarlet Knights will make an early-season road trip to Virginia to take on Virginia Commonwealth (Sept. 3) and William and Mary (Sept. 5), while also venturing to Philadelphia in late September, facing Pennsylvania (Sept. 22), Villanova (Sept. 25) and West Chester (Sept. 26).
“ Adding Michigan State to the schedule is very exciting,” said Tchou. “[MSU head coach] Michele Madison has been a mentor to me for a long time. We'll be more concerned with ourselves and getting better throughout the season then anything else. If we can come together quickly, that will go a long way in helping us succeed. The coaching staff and players put in a lot of hard work during the off-season.”