Sophomore's return pays off for RU
Shannon Woeller traveled almost 6,000 miles to join the Rutgers women's soccer team Friday in Portland, Ore., for the Nike Invitational. The sophomore back, whose last appearance for the No. 24 Scarlet Knights came Aug. 20, in a 3-0 blanking of Stony Brook, spent the past three weeks training with the Canadian National Team in Rome.
And despite all the frequent flyer miles, Woeller experienced no jetlag, coming back in sync with her defensive back four against No. 4 Portland.
"It felt really great to be back," said Woeller, who resides approximately 300 miles north of Portland in Vancouver. "I think as a team, we sort of came together. I came right back in and I feel like we grew a lot and made an identity as a backline."
A vaunted Pilots attack ruined Woeller's homecoming as Portland converted a late opportunity to take the match, 2-1, in front of a spirited home crowd. After only one game back, Rutgers' workhorse experienced her first taste of adversity in 2010, as the Knights needed a victory Sunday to salvage the weekend.
The defense responded with a 1-0 shutout over Washington — the team's fourth of the season.
"It was huge, it was a really important win for our season," Woeller said. "We feel like we can bounce back and we can play Friday-Sunday games. We can move on from a tough loss and come back stronger."
Woeller's return solidifies a back four that was patchwork during her absence. Head coach Glenn Crooks used a variety of different methods, including using sophomore midfielder Maura McLaughlin as a defensive substitute, in order to compensate for Woeller's lengthy hiatus.
And in her first two games back, Crooks did not think twice about easing Woeller back into her normal responsibilities. Woeller's final stat sheet for the weekend read two games started, 180 minutes logged.
"We welcome Shannon back," Crooks said. "She stepped right in as if she hadn't left. Not just Shannon, but Julie [Lancos], Allie [Hambleton], Rheanne [Sleiman], Maura McLaughlin — those five together had a great weekend in the back."
Woeller returned to her usual starting duties, replacing freshman Tori Leigh, who made four starts during Woeller's stint with Team Canada. Sophomore Lindsey McNabb, who saw action in six games off the bench in 2009, also received playing time with the back four.
Woeller, by contrast, played and started in all 22 games last season to go with her three starts in 2010 for the Knights. Of those 22 starts, Woeller saw all 90 minutes in 19 of them.
Playing a full 90 minutes presented issues for the Knights in their second loss of the season Friday to Portland.
The Pilots owned ball possession in the latter stages of the second half, leading to a Portland goal in the 84th minute that sealed the Knights' fate.
"In the last 10 minutes definitely [Portland was] coming at us," said redshirt freshman Jonelle Filigno who, like Woeller, owns caps with the Canadian National Team. "I think we were getting a little bit tired, but I don't know. I think they did surpass us in that aspect."
Despite the loss, Woeller's return could not have come at a better time for Rutgers. After facing in-state rival Seton Hall on Friday, Rutgers takes on No. 5 Boston College on Sunday to close out the weekend.
After their matchup with the Golden Eagles, the Knights play 10 consecutive Big East games to close the regular season.
And with Sleiman dealing with a lingering ankle injury, Crooks looks for Woeller to log a lot of minutes to solidify the Rutgers' outside backs.
"Maura had to step in for Rheanne a couple of times," Crooks said of his weekend substitutions. "Rheanne's got this ankle thing that bothers her. We take her out and kind of fix her up and then she goes back in again."
The Knights are a third of the way to last year's production in terms of shutouts. Rest assured, if Rutgers is to come close to 2009's productivity, Woeller will have something to say about it — 90 minutes worth.