Senior Class Elevates Program to New Heights
Nov. 20, 2015
By Tom Luicci
PISCATAWAY, N.J. - There will be a time in the near future when the seniors on this Rutgers women's soccer team will be able to reflect upon and appreciate the accomplishments of the record-setting season they've helped author.
But now is not that time.
"This is an unfinished story," said senior forward/midfielder Gabby Moreno. "We've been working up to this all four years and I think our class has been the start of something that has elevated the program. But we're not done yet."
For the 10 seniors on the roster, the knowledge that any upcoming game could be their last is the reality. But it's far from the minds of all of them as the No. 9-ranked and No. 2 seed Scarlet Knights (17-3-2) prepare to face Hofstra (13-5-2) at 7 p.m. on Friday in the late game of an NCAA Tournament second round doubleheader at Yurcak Field.
No. 10 Notre Dame (14-4-1) and No. 18 Connecticut (18-3) meet in the first game starting at 4 p.m. The winners advance to Sunday's Sweet 16 at 1 p.m. at Yurcak Field.
"It's definitely not something I'm thinking about," said senior midfielder Samantha Valliant. "I don't go into games thinking this could be my last game. It's just not something you should be thinking about going into games.
"The focus has to be on the game we're playing and the opponent and that's where it is with this team and this senior class."
When all is said and done, though, this group of seniors will rank with the best in the history of the program because of the unprecedented heights reached this season. Rutgers has already set a program record for victories, has tied the single-season record for shutouts (16) and attained its highest national ranking ever (No. 7) at one juncture of the season.
The No. 2 seed for the NCAA Tournament is also a school first.
"What I'm most proud of is the standard we've set," said Moreno. "When I came into this program we were just hoping to be a top 25 team and set that as our standard. Now the feeling is we're a top 10 or 15 team and we can be that every year. The new standard we've set is what I'm most proud of because we're definitely capable of living up to it every year now."
All 10 seniors are either starters or key contributors, with defenders Brianne Reed and Erica Skroski earning First Team All-Big Ten honors this season. Skroski was the league's Defender of the Year.
Senior midfielder Hayley Katkowski, meanwhile, will make her 87th consecutive start when the Scarlet Knights take to the pitch against Hofstra.
"No one wants want this to end, and not just for ourselves but for the seniors," said junior back Erin Smith. "They're our role models. As much as they want to keep this season going we want to keep it going for them. We don't want their last game to come too soon."
Sophomore goalkeeper Casey Murphy, who set the single-season school record for shutouts (16) in part because of a senior-dominated defense, said the senior class influence is all over a team that may go down as the best in program history.
"I don't even want to think about them not being here next year," said Murphy, the Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year. "It honestly upsets me a lot."
From the outset, with seniors at key spots, this team announced its presence and did so in splashy style. Rutgers opened the year 8-0 with a school-record scoreless streak of 770:16, then had a 10-game unbeaten stretch (8-0-2) that carried the Scarlet Knights to the Big Ten Tournament championship game.
"In the beginning of the season we set out to reach some goals and I think we've reached a lot of them and even surpassed what some of our original goals were," said fifth-year senior forward Cassie Inacio. "To leave here with all of these records and to know we helped make it happen, that's why we came to Rutgers. We came here to make it a better program and we can feel good about having done that."
The meeting with Hofstra is a rematch from an Aug. 23 regular season game at the Penn State Invitational. Rutgers prevailed 1-0 on a goal by Jenna Seddon (assisted by Moreno) in what was the second game of the year for both sides.
"I'm sure they've gotten a lot better as the season has gone just as we have," said Valliant. "I'm expecting a different game from last time. I expect they will bring a lot of energy. It was so long ago. I'm not sure it has an impact on this game.
"It was our second game, their second game and a hot day out. We've both had rest now and have developed as teams. The first game is not relevant to this game."
Rutgers has the home field advantage this time around, which is no small thing. The Scarlet Knights are 11-0-1 at Yurcak this year. And it's another chance for a special group of seniors to play before family and friends.
"We've already broken a lot of school records and that's really a tribute to the seniors," said sophomore forward Colby Ciarrocca, the team's leading goal producer. "They've really changed the program. We want them to go out on top."