Rutgers rallies after leader goes down

October, 12, 2009
PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Two hours after their teammate lay prone on the field, the stomach-turning sound of her prolonged anguish the only thing audible in a hushed stadium, Rutgers women's soccer players erupted in the full-throated roar of victory as Julia Lancos' blast from 30 yards found the corner of the net.

Sometimes neither words nor pictures tell a story as well as sound.

A 2-1 overtime win against DePaul may or may not help save a season left teetering by a devastating injury to junior forward Ashley Jones. But whatever happens in the weeks ahead, what happened after Jones' injury Sunday told a story of this team and this season.

"For Ash Jones, period," Rutgers coach Glenn Crooks said of the day's work. "End of story; they did it for Ashley."

Jones was the player who had picked up the defensively gifted Scarlet Knights after season-ending injuries knocked out three top forwards -- Caycie Gusman, Merissa Smith and Jonelle Filigno -- and midfielder Gina DeMaio, second all-time in assists at Rutgers. A natural midfielder with four goals in 42 career games entering the season, Jones led the team with eight through 14 games this season. That includes the winner against Penn State in September, a result that launched the team on its ascent to No. 10 in the polls.

But with 22 minutes, 36 seconds remaining in the first half of a physical game Sunday that appeared to get away from referee Giany Barbat on both ends, Jones went down following a collision in front of the DePaul goal. Play was halted for 28 minutes while medical personnel attended to her and eventually took her from the field in an ambulance. No official diagnosis was available immediately after the game, but it was later confirmed that Jones suffered two compound fractures -- tibia and fibula -- and underwent surgery Sunday night.

Trailing 1-0 at the time of the injury, Rutgers managed to make it into halftime without surrendering anything more on the scoreboard but also without showing much attacking presence of its own. In the locker room at halftime, Crooks tried to avoid letting an emotional team lose itself.

"The only thing that happened in there was I told them what Ashley told me," Crooks said. "And that was the only discussion about Ashley, and that was all they needed to hear. And we kept the tactics very simple. Normally I'll go in with three things on the attacking side, three things on the defensive side. I just said two things; I had to keep it simple. [Assistant coach Karina LeBlanc] made a good point. She said, 'They're so emotional; they're not even going to hear what you say.'"

Without Jones, one of the Big East's fastest players, the Scarlet Knights struggled for the remainder of the game to get the ball wide, but as the second half began, they nonetheless gradually began to control the flow of play. A penalty kick conversion from Jennifer Anzivino in the 58th minute off a DePaul hand ball tied the game, and with just more than five minutes remaining in the overtime session, Lancos laced her winner off a free kick.

Now the Scarlet Knights will have to go about the work of constructing a viable offense without arguably their five best attacking talents. Since beating Marquette last week, they've scored just two goals in the past three games.

But with every reason to give up on this day, Rutgers instead heeded the message Jones gave her coach before leaving the field.

In no uncertain terms, she told him to make sure they won the game.

For an answer, all you had to do was listen for the roar.

Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.



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