Rutgers women are representing state well


Staff Writer

The state’s top high school girl soccer players don’t have to look far to find championship-caliber soccer at the collegiate level.

It’s right here in central New Jersey, at the Piscataway campus of Rutgers University.

Under the direction of seventh-year head coach Glenn Crooks and his coaching staff, the Rutgers women’s soccer team has emerged as a national power this season, racing out to its best start in school history.

In recording their eighth shutout of the year in a 2-0 win over in-state rival Princeton last week, the Scarlet Knights improved to 10-1-1, and 4-0-1 in Big East Conference play, placing them atop the conference’s National Division standings, just one point ahead of the nation’s top-ranked team, Notre Dame (11-0-0. 4-0-0).

Rutgers a chance to add to that lead on Sunday when they traveled to South Bend, Indiana, to take on the Fighting Irish, after traveling to Chicago to face DePaul on Friday.

And their shot at the nation’s top team couldn’t have come a better time, with Rutgers being unbeaten in 18 of its last 19 games, going back to the end of last season.

While the Scarlet Knights are attracting national attention with their solid play, the program is continuing a trend that has many of the state’s (and particularly central New Jersey’s) top players looking at Rutgers as a viable option to continue their playing careers at the highest possible level.

“Certainly it’s intentional in that when we came here there were only seven New Jersey girls on the roster,” Crooks said. “Being a Jersey boy myself, I’ve been coaching the majority of my life, and I’m aware of the talent levels throughout the state. We saw that it was important that we won over the New Jersey soccer community in order to get the program going in the proper direction.”

A look at this year’s Rutgers’ roster highlights Crooks’ success in that regard, with all but five of the current Scarlet Knight’s 25 players hailing from the Garden State.

But that’s not to say that Crooks has had trouble attracting some top out-of-state talent as well.

“We’re also finding that the better we do, the more exposure we get on the national level, which allows us to reach out to players all over the country and beyond,” the coach said. “We graduated a player from France last year, and this year’s team has players from Canada (freshman Karla Schacher), Massachusetts (freshman Becky Wise) and Hawaii (freshman Caycie Gusman).

“But certainly getting New Jersey’s top players is vital to our success.”

And many of the local products have emerged as key components in Rutgers’ emergence this season.

Senior co-captain Jamie Komar, a St. John Vianney graduate from Matawan, has helped shape the direction of the program over the last four years.

“Komar is an absolute warrior,” Crooks said. “I’ve often said she’s the kid I want in the bunker with if there were a battle. She’s come so far in this program. We’ve played here in different spots and to her credit she’s made it happen wherever we put her. I want so much for her to finish out with some championships.”

Redshirt junior Tierney Brady, a Brick Memorial graduate, is another player Crooks has been impressed with during his career at RU.

“She’s been in and out of the line-up for us, but she’s such a dedicated, talented kid,” Crooks said. “She didn’t start in the Seton Hall game (a 1-0 RU win on Sept. 15), but she came in and from then on she’s been one of the best players for us. She provides rhythm to our midfield.”

Junior midfielder Leia Rispoli, of South Brunswick, is another team leader.

“Leia is having a very good year,” Crooks said. “She’s one of five midfielders but this is the best she’s been playing since she’s been at Rutgers. She’s technically very sound, and has developed into a fierce defensive player who is much better in the air, which is important.”

And then there are a host of local underclassmen, all of whom are sure to be the focal points of the Rutgers’ team over the next few seasons.

One of them, freshman midfielder Jen Anzivino, an All-State player at Middletown North last fall, has quickly proven to be a force at the collegiate level, posting four goals and two assists already in her debut season.

“Jen is just a good soccer player,” Crooks said. “She can probably play just about anywhere on the pitch. We started her out as the holding midfielder, which is kind of like the quarterback of the team. But with Jen’s talents as a goal-scorer we realized we needed to mover her up front. She’s so technically good at holding the ball , and getting her closer to the goal was immediately advantageous.”

Among the other local players who have helped Rutgers get off to its best start in school history is Metuchen’s Kristen Edmunds, a sophomore midfielder/defenseman, who had three assists entering the DePaul game.

“We don’t have anyone in the program that can do as many things as she can off the dribble,” Crooks said. “We like to beat teams on the outside and she can get around just about anyone with her quickness and skills. And she forces a lot of fouls with her abilities, which in turn creates opportunities for us.”

A pair of East Brunswick natives, Lauren Esposito, a sophomore forward, and Kristie Lang, a freshman forward/midfielder, have also emerged a blossoming forces for the Scarlet Knights.

“Kristie started (Wednesday) against Princeton and has been a first or second reserve for us,” Crooks said. “She has worked so hard and is starting to refine her game. She’s really been productive for us, and is a delightful kid.

“Lauren has had somewhat of a limited role for us, but she’s been getting and earning more minutes lately,” the coach added. “She’s committed to work hard and improve every day that she’s out there. I’m so happy to have both (Kristie and Lauren) here, since I’m an East Brunswick guy myself.”

Sophomore Courtney Roarty, of Edison, is another player who will be a big part of Rutgers’ future, though she is currently still suffering a bit from the effects of a concussion suffered during a Sept. 22 2-0 win over Georgetown.

“She’s had some starts up front and has proven to be a really good forward,” her coach said. “Her athleticism and soccer smarts make her like Anzivino, the kind of player that can play anywhere on the pitch. Plus she’s the team comedian, just a great kid.”

Allentown’s Kristy Catelli is another youngster that Crooks is excited about.

“Kristy is coming back from a broken bone in her foot, and will in all likelihood redshirt,” Crooks said. “She has a lot of potential and good size, so we need her to fully recover from this injury.”

With so many Jersey-bred players on its roster, the Rutgers squad truly has become a representative of the state’s blossoming soccer scene. There is a slew of talented players who can excel at the collegiate level scattered throughout the state, and Crooks and his staff are becoming increasingly good at convincing those players to stay close to home.

The result is an unprecedented level of success for the squad.

“It’s been a very satisfying season thus far,” Crooks said. “But we had very high expectations for this team. This is the most committed team we’ve had, in terms of their passion for the game and their love for each other. Add to that the talent, and that’s why we put our goals so high.”

That being said, this Rutgers team remains focused on the big picture.

“We have a lot left to accomplish,” Crooks said. “We’re not quite to where we want to be, but we’re as close as ever. We expect to win the match every time we step on the pitch.”

And that’s the kind of mentality it takes to become a championship-caliber team.

The women’s soccer team from the state school of New Jersey is beginning to show the nation just how competitive soccer in the Garden State can be.