Rutgers University field hockey coach Meredith Civico, an Ocean City High School graduate, knows all about playing in the NCAA Tournament.
Now in her seventh year at the helm at Rutgers, she’ll lead the Scarlets Knights in their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1986.
Rutgers went 13-5 in the regular season, its best record under Civico, and was one of eight teams to receive an at-large bid.
The Scarlet Knights will meet Big East Conference champion and defending national champion UConn (18-3) at 2:30 p.m. Friday in a first-round game in College Park, Maryland.
The winner will meet either Albany (16-4) or bracket host Maryland (19-2) in a second-round game.
“It’s really exciting,” said Civico, 36, whose surname was Long as a 2001 Ocean City graduate. “The team has played very well and there has been a lot of growth. We’ve won some big games. It’s really exciting to be playing in November.”
Rutgers, ranked No. 11 in the Penn Monto/NFHCA Division I poll, defeated five ranked teams this fall, a program record. The Scarlet Knights defeated No. 6 Princeton 1-0 on Sept. 9, the first victory in program history against a team ranked that high. They also beat No. 18 St. Joseph’s (3-2 on Sept 2), No. 19 Delaware (2-1 on Sept. 30), No. 15 Northwestern (2-1 on Oct. 12) and No. 7 Iowa (1-0 on Oct. 19).
When she played at the University of Maryland, Civico helped the Terrapins to the NCAA Final Four three times, including its 2005 NCAA championship season.
“I really didn’t tell the team too much (about being in the NCAA Tournament), Civico said. “We try to stay in the moment, one game, one training session. We’ll approach the tournament the same way, and tweak a few things. We’ll keep competing and keep getting better.”
At Ocean City, she was part of the group that established the Red Raiders’ tradition as a state power. She was a member of the Red Raiders’ first three state Group III championship teams, 1997 to 1999.
“Being at Ocean City and part of coach (Trish) LeFever’s program will never leave me,” Civico said. “I apply what I learned at Ocean City and at Maryland to my coaching — to work hard and get better every day. I’m very competitive, and I learned that you try to win everything, the exercise, the drill, and it carries over into your play.”
Civico’s husband, Joey Civico, is one of her assistant coaches.
“He has coached a long time and has coached men’s field hockey internationally in England and the U.S. National Men’s Team,” Meredith said. “Having a husband and wife coaching together is unique and a lot of fun.
“We brought the team to Ocean City for one day in the preseason for fun on the beach and Boardwalk. I have a 2-year-old son, Noah, and he’ll be staying with my mom (Suzanne Long) in Ocean City while we’re at Maryland.”
UConn is ranked fourth.
“We’ve played them in the preseason the last two years,” Civico said. “They’re a possession-style team, and they try to find spaces. I like the matchup, I think it will be a good game. They have some excellent players, but we’ll have the same opportunity to counter.”
The NCAA Tournament begins Wednesday with two play-in games, one of which is William & Mary vs. Monmouth. The opening round of 16 on Friday is followed by the quarterfinals Nov. 11.
The Final Four is the following weekend at Trager Stadium in Louisville, Kentucky, with the semifinals Nov. 16 and the championship game Nov. 18.
Sophomore midfielder Daphne Groothuis, of the Netherlands, leads the Scarlet Knights with 12 goals and 13 assists.
Several former South Jersey standouts play for Rutgers, including former Eastern Regional players Austyn Cuneo (six goals, two assists), Nickki Santore and Alanna Gollotto (three goals, four assists), Gianna Mancini and goalie Gianna Glatz of Shawnee and freshman Abby Regn of Seneca.