Resilient Rutgers standing tall despite struggle to find success in Big Ten

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When the Rutgers women’s lacrosse team made the transition to the Big Ten, it knew there were going to be some growing pains along the way.

The talent of the opposition in the Scarlet Knights’ schedule — eight teams in the top 30 according to the NCAA women’s lacrosse RPI, with two more teams in that range remaining — has made the change difficult on the banks.

Hollie DiMuro, a fifth-year defender who has played her fair share of Big East games before Rutgers moved to its new conference, believes the consistency in which the Knights face great teams is the major difference between the conferences.

“These girls in the Big Ten have better stick skills and more speed,” DiMuro said. “We’ve played talent like this before, but the difference is we’re playing them more often.”

DiMuro has used her five years of collegiate lacrosse experience to assist the underclassmen, adjusting to the team in order to prepare the program for the years of Big Ten action ahead.

“I try to encourage them and motivate them,” she said. “I try pulling them aside all the time and explaining what happened in that situation — what they did wrong, what I have done in the past, to show them this is how you do it, this is not how you do it.”

Rutgers (1-13, 0-3) is currently on a 13-game losing streak, breaking the old program record of seven consecutive losses in the 1988 season. The squad has suffered defensively, giving up 192 goals this season, eight goals shy of equaling the most goals allowed in a campaign (200) also set in 1988.

Despite the defensive woes displayed by the Knights this season, there have been bright spots.

While permiting a historic amount of goals, senior goalkeeper Candice Dandridge also ranks first in the Big Ten and 14th in the nation in saves per game, deflecting 8.71 shots at her goal in 14 games in the cage.

Playing in a position where substitutions are rare, Dandridge didn’t see much action until her junior year. The inexperience heading into this season made the transition difficult in the beginning.

“In order to keep up with the pace of the game, you have to play in a game,” Dandridge said. “Practice is not enough. Playing and seeing those types of shots every game definitely helps. I think I started a bit behind because I missed my first two years, but I got time my junior year, so I think that helped. But I did start a little behind so I had to catch up.”

DiMuro is approaching the all-time caused turnover record in program history. The fifth-year senior has 80 career caused turnovers, one away from tying Robin Erthal for third all-time and 29 from equalling Kristin Checksfield for the top spot.

Lauren Sbrilli joined the elusive 100-goal club in a 10-8 loss against Lehigh.

While milestones are being approached and exceeded, the individuals on the team do not put themselves before the collective goal.

Dandridge was unaware of her place among the elite netminders in Division I until she was told in a pregame interview.

“I didn’t know that, that’s pretty cool,” Dandridge said with a laugh. “But I guess all the handwork is paying off. Staying before and after practice and getting extra shots and making sure I see the shots I see in games if I didn’t see them in practice.”

Head coach Laura Brand-Sias sees the selflessness of the team as a positive and believes it made the move to the country’s elite women’s lacrosse conference smooth.

“We’re very team-oriented. Particularly with us transitioning to the Big Ten, it’s important to understand that we don’t have a lot of kids that will rival the talent of the other teams,” the 13th-year coach said.

“Someone might score and reach a benchmark, but when you leave with a loss, they understand they’re going to have those moments. But they have that understanding that it’s great but it didn’t help us win the game. We collect the balls — be it scoring Lauren’s 100th goal or Halley Barnes scores the first goal in the Big Ten — but we push the celebration off to the side.”

Along with the selflessness, the Knights have been a resilient group unwilling to give up the fight regardless of how many times they’ve fallen — a dangerous quality to have when facing the gauntlet that is the Big Ten.

“Our record doesn’t reflect what a good group this is,” Brand-Sias said. “Like I’ve always said, how much fight they have and the ability to rebound on a daily basis says a lot about their character and the kind of people that they are. We’re able to have the record that we have and be able to fight every single day.”

This article was written by Brian Fonseca from Rutgers University / Daily Targum and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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