The Rutgers University women's lacrosse team once again faces one of the most difficult schedules in intercollegiate lacrosse. The Scarlet Knights have a preseason scrimmage against the Princeton Tigers and open the season against the defending national champion Wildcats of Northwestern.
Rutgers head coach Laura Brand has upheld her team's annual tradition of trying to schedule the best and most challenging opponents.
"Obviously, opening with Northwestern, in my mind, is a great game because we have such a young team and they will be challenged right from the start," Brand explained. "The trend of our fall season was playing up to tough competition. I think it’s going to be a nice start for the team and we're definitely going to get our feet wet early."
The schedule, which Brand praised for its high level of competition, features contests against three BIG EAST teams and four non-conference top-20 teams including: No. 1 Northwestern (2/26), No. 6 Georgetown (3/25), No. 12 Hofstra (3/1), No. 13 Syracuse (4/15), No. 15 Connecticut (4/8), No. 16 Delaware (3/4), and No. 17 Cornell (5/6).
While the teams' trips to Hofstra, Delaware, Loyola, Georgetown and Connecticut will certainly be difficult, the Scarlet Knights will play some their toughest opponents on their home-fields, Yurcak field and the RU Stadium Complex Turf Field. The team will definitely enjoy the home-field advantage when it plays Northwestern, Temple, Syracuse and Cornell, all "on the Banks".
For a team that features 11 freshmen, many of which will see significant playing time during their first year "on the Banks", the Scarlet Knights expect some ups and some downs; however, as Brand explained, that is expected of a team with so much youth.
"It's going to be a huge learning process," Brand said. "But we are athletic enough and we have enough freshmen who stepped up on the field this fall to have a good season. It will just all depend on how we step out on any given day."
Sophomore Kate Shomo (Medford Lakes, NJ) returns to the attack as the Scarlet Knights' second leading scorer from a year ago. Shomo's standout freshman season saw her tally 33 points on 25 goals and eight assists and Brand expects more of the same from the sophomore.
"[Shomo] had a great fall season," Brand said. "She can certainly be counted on to put multiple goals in the net of every game we play."
Brand also expects sophomore Rachel Bruce (Arnold, MD) and freshman Mallory Tornetta (Kimberton, PA) to be consistent contributors to the success of the Scarlet Knights. Brand refers to Tornetta as a young quarterback of the offensive attack after an impressive fall season. After playing in 16 games a year ago, Bruce earned her starting position. Because the team struggled through so many injuries a year ago, players like Bruce and Shirah Hamor (Pennington, NJ) were able to step in and gain valuable playing time during their first years on the team.
After a stellar sophomore season, All-BIG EAST First Team junior Katie Batiuk (Jackson, NJ) returns as the Scarlet Knights' top offensive weapon. Batiuk was named the BIG EAST Conference Midfielder of the Year, the first Scarlet Knight to receive such an honor since 2002, when now assistant coach Kristin Checksfield won the Defensive Player of the Year award. After scoring 59 points and leading the Scarlet Knights in eight offensive statistical categories, Batiuk will be joined by a cast of new and old faces.
Senior Kathleen Holley (Pottstown, PA) should stabilize the midfield along with Batiuk but two additional freshmen will have an impact. Kathryn Lawrence (Pylesville, MD), an All-County player at North Harford High School and Michelle Poole (Hackettstown, NJ), a First Team All-American and First Team All-State player while at West Morris Central High School, will join a veteran corps in the midfield and see significant playing time from the start of the season.
The Scarlet Knights boast a very youthful defensive core, headed by former midfielder, junior Anne Marchitello (Medford Lakes, NJ), an All-BIG EAST Second Team selection a year ago. In her second season on the women's lacrosse team, Marchitello emerged as the team's most consistent defender and because of her leadership ability; she has been transformed into a low-defender after playing her first two seasons in the midfield.
The former midfielder led the BIG EAST in ground balls in both overall and league games, totaling 41 on the season overall and 19 during conference action. Her 14 caused turnovers during BIG EAST play were also tops in the league. She totaled 26 caused turnovers throughout the season to tie for second in the BIG EAST overall. Redshirt freshman Sarah Williams (Phoenix, MD) and junior Jamie Farewell (Medford Lakes, NJ) should both be consistent contributors in the teams' backfield. A lot was expected of Williams before her freshman campaign was cut short by injuries, yet Brand is confident that Williams can supply the effort and energy the coaching staff expects of her during her first full season.
The Scarlet Knights bring two freshmen goalies to the table this season. Sandra Abel (Monrovia, MD) captained her Urbana High School team for two years and played goalie for three of her four years on the team. After playing on the attack for one season, Abel made a seamless transition to goal and improved her statistics each of three seasons thereafter. She earned First-Team All-County selection twice and was named to Second Team All-Monocacy Valley Athletic League honors as a junior.
Her fellow net-minder is Katherine Parker (Sykesville, MD), who comes to RU after being a four-year starter in goal at Seton Keough High School. Parker saved better than 50 percent of the shots she faced over four years and was named her area's top-ranked goalie by the Baltimore Sun after just her freshman season.
The spot is up for grabs at the moment, but that is not to say that can not change.
“There could be a battle for the spot right up until the season starts," Brand said. "Each goalie has different strengths and weaknesses. While there could be a standout starter by the time the season comes, it is entirely possible that we alternate the position depending on what kind of offense we are facing on any particular day."
As young as the Scarlet Knights may be, the team and its coaching staff will have to count on a few seniors to help bring the younger players along, while continuing to lead the team on and off the field.
Kathleen Holley has been a consistent midfield starter for three seasons and Brand expects her to make much damage by way of the transition game. Attacker Emily Widrick (Carthage, NY) scored 12 goals in 12 games for the Scarlet Knights a year ago but was out of the lineup by the end of the year because of injury. Provided she comes back on track, Widrick can be counted on to be a major player on the attack and in the midfield.
After scoring 32 goals in 45 games during her first three years "On the Banks", Lisa Savage (Cortlandt Manor, NY) returns after missing the entire 2005 season. Brand explained how important Savage has been in the past, and how important she will be to her teams' success this season.
"[Savage] was always one of our leaders as far as points go, but she was always the quarterback of the offense," Brand said. "We're very much looking forward to her coming back."