That’s part of the problem, though. He doesn’t know his peers.
For this season only, Rutgers will be competing in the American Athletic Conference. The conference includes five opponents Rutgers has rarely played, if ever, and four others Rutgers is familiar with from competing in the Big East.
As Rutgers pursues its second consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament for the second time in program history, the Scarlet Knights have new faces to deal with that include Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, Southern Methodist and Temple.
Rutgers last made back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances in 2008 and 2009.
“I don’t have much of a reaction to the poll because the league is so up in the air,” Crooks said. “It’s gratifying that the coaches feel so strongly about us, but it’s hard to say what’s going to happen right now.”
The coaches also tabbed senior forward Jonelle Filigno as the preseason Offensive Player of the Year, and named Filigno and sophomore Hayley Katkowski to the preseason all-conference team.
Filigno led the team with 15 goals and five assists last season. The team scored a total of 32 goals. Because of other commitments in the past, this is the first time Filigno will play with the team for a whole season.
“She has a special ability,” Crooks said. “ … She has a great mentality and she knows how to finish. So many of her goals, she creates on her own by her movements. She’s very efficient.”
Filigno is joined by sophomore Amanda DeVolk and freshman Madison Tiernan. DeVolk scored one goal as a freshman.
Katkowski will start in the midfield, along with freshman Victoria Prager and sophomore Gabby Moreno.
Senior Tricia DiPaolo will be joined on defense by sophomores Maggie Morash, Brianne Reed and Erica Skroski, an Absegami High School alum.
Skroski began last season in the midfield, but was moved to center backfield when the Scarlet Knights suffered some defensive injuries.
“She’s a very good player who can play anywhere,” Crooks said. “We needed her pace back there. She was fantastic. She’s a very good player.”
Skroski isn’t the only former Brave on the team, as Jenna Seddon will be a freshman on this year’s squad. Seddon played forward most of her life, but Crooks moved her to fullback to fill a need.
“You look for great athletes to play fullback,” Crooks said. “She’s good in the air, and she’s a tough player.”
Seddon played in both of the team’s scrimmages, and showed improvement from the first scrimmage.
Senior Jessica Janosz starts in goal. She played in nine games as a junior, making 19 saves. She participated in five wins. She replaced Emmy Simpkins in two starts last season when the starting goalie was injured. Now that Simpkins has graduated, Janosz takes over full-time starting duties. Crooks said she’s as fit as he’s ever seen her.
Crooks continues to strees playing strong defense to his players.
Rutgers was 13-8-1 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament last year. Eight of the Scarlet Knights’ wins came via shutout.
They allowed two or more goals in seven games, including a 6-1 loss to ACC champion Virginia and in the second round of the NCAA tournament. They also fell 4-1 earlier in the season at the hands of Texas A&M, who, along with Virginia, advanced to the Round of 16 in the NCAA tournament.
The Scarlet Knights are 1-1 in scrimmages in August. They fell to West Virginia, 3-0, and beat Richmond, 4-1.
With the regular season set to begin Friday at home against Drexel, 7 p.m., strong defense will be as important as ever as a season of uncertainty begins.
“Last year, UConn was the best team not to get into the NCAAs, and Louisville deserved to be there, too,” Crooks said. "Cincinnati's always tough and South Florida's been improving.
"There’s a lot of new teams, and I’m not sure where we fit in. We’re focused on ourselves. We have our own goals and we’re outlining how to accomplish them. There are some great new teams and some quality teams we’ve faced in the past. It’s a great new league. It’s going to be fantastic.”