Friday, 7:00 PM
Rutgers (12-5-1; 4th – Big Ten; WTSR – 1.17, 2nd – Big Ten)
La Salle (14-5-2; 1st – Atlantic 10; WTSR – N/A)
You Don’t Seem Too Jazzed About This One.
How perceptive of you.
OK, Why Are You So Grumpy About La Salle?
We’ve seen the Explorers play four teams in the RPI Top 40 this season. They’re 0-4-0. The Explorers’ best result on the season is a 1-0 win at Northeastern which looks pretty good considering what NU did in the CAA, but given the draw down the line, La Salle and Rutgers are basically fighting for the right to get ripped apart by Virginia in the second round.
Wait, But This La Salle Team Can Score Lots of Goals, Right?
Yeah. In spades. The Explorers have historically been a goldmine for talented attackers in the past, and it’s no different this year. It really begins and ends with Kelsey Haycook, who may be one of the best strikers you’ve never heard of. Haycook netted her twentieth goal this past weekend in the A10 Tournament and has stunning usage numbers, doing it on just sixty-six shots. Haycook has eight match winning goals and puts 59% of her shots on goal. In short, she’s a stud and a serious threat for any team. Add in the talents of Norwegian Maryam Huseini in midfield, who had twelve assists and super sub Jessika Kagan, who had six goals and eight assists, primarily off the bench for La Salle, and you’ve got a club that can make it rain goals. La Salle scored eighteen goals in eight league games this year and were shut out just once, by Washington at the beginning of the year.
Alright, So Where’s The Downside?
You’d think La Salle would be a pretty good side defensively conceding just three goals in eight league games. That argument is helped by the presence of the A10 Defensive Player of the Year in Kerri Aiken, along with super rookie defender Paige McDowell, and the league’s best goalkeeper in Jessica Wiggins. But that’s still very deceptive, because the Explorers’ defense looked very shaky before league play started. Four goals to West Virginia was bad but somewhat understandable. But La Salle also shipped three to William & Mary and Florida Gulf Coast and two to Princeton and Temple, among others. While they had seemingly sorted themselves out for league play, blowing a lead against Dayton Sunday was a bad reminder of how bad things can get on defense for Paul Royal’s club at their worst.
And Yet, You Still Think They Have A Good Chance To Advance…
Sorry, Scarlet Knights fans, but the tank has been reading on “E” for Rutgers for a while now. After winning five in a row to put themselves in a place near the top of the Big Ten table, Rutgers has promptly lost four of their last five, including their Big Ten Tournament opener to Iowa. Is it a blessing in disguise? Perhaps the rest could do the Scarlet Knights some good after such a listless finish to the regular season.
What’s The Biggest Problem With The Scarlet Knights As Of Late?
The offense has stopped scoring. They were shutout in all five of their losses this season, including those four down the stretch. Rutgers had been winning a lot of Big Ten matches by 1-0 margins, and the law of averages rebounded on the club in a bad way, as they lost three 1-0 matches late in the season to Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Iowa. The team finished netting barely a goal a game, with just Madison Tiernan and Stefanie Scholz scoring more than two goals in the league. Scholz is more erratic with her shooting but makes her goals count, with all three in the league being winners. Tiernan was a little more prolific and puts more of her shots on frame, but the struggles of both down the stretch have really hurt the team going forward.
Why Is There Still Hope Then?
The defense is still really good when they’re on their game. Admittedly, that hasn’t been that often as of late. They’ve kept just one clean sheet in six matches after keeping four straight and six in seven early in league play. But Brianne Reed has turned into a dominant defender for the club, while Erica Skroski has also turned into a strong center-back for the Scarlet Knights. Out wide, Maggie Morash and Erin Smith are competent and help form a solid back four for the Scarlet Knights. While some may worry about the club leaning heavily on a rookie netminder in Casey Murphy, she’s quickly established herself as one of the top first-year options in this class. La Salle’s a difficult side to totally stymie, but Rutgers might have a shot at slowing the A10 side down.
But You Still Think La Salle Is Going To Prevail?
Yeah. I’m a big believer in form at this time of year, and despite the loss to Dayton in the A10 Tournament final, La Salle’s sailing has been much smoother down the stretch. The lack of results against big clubs and the defense is worrying, but the last factor should be mitigated by the fact that Rutgers is ice cold in front of goal right now. They may have battle for it, but I think the elusive first-round win for the Explorers is within their grasp.