Knights’ postseason begins at Providence
In tying Seton Hall to close its regular season, the Rutgers women’s soccer team did more than snag a No. 5 seed in the Big East Championships.
With the draw, the Scarlet Knights finally gave themselves breathing room.
“I think the team does feel good about themselves right now and I think we also recognize that we have a new life,” said head coach Glenn Crooks. “It wasn’t easy getting in — this may be the biggest challenge getting into the playoffs since I’ve been here.”
But when it comes to the team’s NCAA Tournament chances, Crooks knows better than to hold his breath. The head coach acknowledged the Knights have plenty work to do if they want to gain an at-large bid for the field of 64.
Crooks also noted the team may need to advance as far as the Big East Championships final to gain enough ground in RPI, where Rutgers (8-7-3, 3-5-3) ranks 86th. But before the Knights begin thinking about NCAA’s, they must take care of business in the conference postseason.
Their first match is this afternoon against Providence, a team the Knights did not play during the regular season.
“I’m excited to be back [in the Big East Championships],” said senior Julie Lancos, who played forward in the team’s past two games. “I know for a while it was a little nerve-racking whether we would be back there or not. Now it’s the fun part. Now in order to move on you have to win, so it’s kind of do or die every game now.”
Between Rutgers and Providence, both teams understand the necessity of performing in the clutch.
The Friars (7-8-4, 5-6) won their final two regular season games to qualify for the final spot in the American Division, earning 6 points with wins against Pittsburgh and Connecticut.
The Knights also came through with a 1-0 overtime win on the road against Cincinnati, followed by their most recent tie with Seton Hall.
More production offensively — the Knights scored three goals in two games — made the difference in the matches, with Lancos’ overtime goal against the Cincinnati saving the team’s season.
“We haven’t scored too many goals this year, but the past two games we’ve been scoring a lot more and I think it’s just going to keep getting better,” Lancos said.
Freshman Stefanie Scholz, the Knights second-leading scorer with three goals, noted Lancos’ strength in the front third as a key component in enabling more opportunities.
The South Hackensack, N.J., native makes her collegiate postseason debut for Crooks.
Also making her first career postseason start in the front third is freshman forward Amy Pietrangelo, who returns after missing two games with the Canadian National Team.
Junior back Shannon Woeller will remain with Team Canada through tonight, when it takes on Brazil in the championship of the Pan American Games.
With Lancos up top and Woeller missing her third consecutive game, the Knights are forced to compensate in the back line. Freshman Morgan Kennedy and sophomore Tori Leigh both assumed Woeller and Lancos’ roles as center backs on a full-time basis.
The responsibilities continue in today’s match, with either junior goalkeeper Emmy Simpkins or junior Jess Janosz starting in net.
Simpkins remembers the Knights’ early exit in the conference tournament last season at West Virginia, the team hosting this year’s semifinals and finals.
Before the Knights can qualify for NCAA’s they will have to go through Morgantown, W.Va., and even before then, they must win on the road against Louisville.
But Simpkins and Co. understand success comes one step at a time.
A tie against Seton Hall generated the initial sigh of relief, and now the Knights want to stay breathing for as long as they can in the postseason.
“Right now, it’s getting past Providence, then going to Louisville to take Louisville down on their home pitch and then back to West Virginia,” Simpkins said. “Good ol’ Morgantown.”