Of the women’s lacrosse team’s 15 games this season, eight are against teams currently ranked in the IWLCA top-20. Wednesday’s 16-7 win over Colgate was not one of those eight games. Sunday’s non-conference tilt with No. 14 Rutgers is.
It’s also a revenge game, as the Scarlet Knights defeated the Red 11-10 in overtime in Cornell’s season opener.
“Rutgers beat us last year,” said head coach Jenny Graap ’86. “Colgate’s not in that position. They haven’t had success against us in recent history. The Rutgers game brings a little more emotion to the table.”
That win, over a Red squad that was nationally ranked to start the season, is representative of a Rutgers program that is on the rise.
“They were certainly a more disciplined team than we had seen in the past,” Graap said. “The maturing of the Rutgers’ program is, to me, a very noticeable change. Rutgers always was a team that was scrappy, tough and athletic. It was never an easy game against Rutgers because they get good athletes. But [Rutgers’ head coach] Laura Brand has brought a new level of sophistication, and a new level of complexity to the way they play. So they’re more dangerous now because they still have the physical element and the talent, and now you add the layer of them being a little more poised. They seem a little more confident and they’ve had success.”
With only two Rutgers’ games on which to base strategy — a 21-4 loss to No. 1 Northwestern and a 7-6 loss to Delaware — it’s hard for Graap to know much of what to expect beyond a talented team. Still, the Colgate win has given the team much about itself to focus on.
“We’re going to try to work particularly on our draw control and our midfield connections, transitioning the ball up into the attack,” Graap said. “We trigger that typically off a goalkeeper clear and then we transition the ball. That aspect of the game is an area that we want to work on … to get us some more fast-break looks.”
And not just any looks.
“We’re looking to get off high percentage shots and quality shots,” Graap said. “We took 31 shots against Colgate and I’m not sure that we would label all of those shots as high percentage, quality shots. We’re looking for a concept to get the ball down quickly and that to result in a high percentage shot on the cage.”
Despite the gaudy offensive stats that Northwestern put up against Rutgers — 21 goals and 39 shots — Graap said that the numbers were probably mostly due to Northwestern’s talent, not Rutgers’ shortcomings. Indeed, the Scarlet Knights’ starting goalie, Sandra Abel was named to the preseason Big East team, as was defender Jessica Davis. It also could be said about Rutgers’ offense, which got off only 14 shots against the Wildcats.
“I think we’re going to see more of those kids that didn’t get the ball now have more offense and react to it,” Graap said. “We just need to be solid and sound fundamentally and trust that we can adjust to what’s happening and make any decisions or markups we need.”
Although Rutgers lost leading scorer Katie Batiuk to graduation, there is no reason to believe the Scarlet Knights’ offense won’t be potent as junior Nina Frankoski was a unanimous selection to the 2008 Big East Preseason Team. And the offense will certainly be scrappy.
“Defensively we want to be mindful of our fouling,” Graap said. “Any kind of physical contest, the defenders have to really play in control and be aggressive and take risks without overextending or fouling too much. It’s a fine balance and early on in the season we’re still working on that aspect.”
And while the Red defense only gave up those seven goals to Colgate, there are certain types of goals that Graap would like to avoid against Rutgers.
“What hurt us against Colgate [defensively] was to give up a goal with [14 seconds] left [in the first half],” Graap said. “… I think that was one moment where we might say defensively we could have held a little stronger for another 14 seconds.