Midfielder returns to starting lineup for RU
It was not even a month ago when the Rutgers women’s soccer team’s chances at the Big East Tournament were bleak as it dropped five of its first six games in conference play.
The mood changed after Maura McLaughlin re-entered the starting lineup Oct. 5 at DePaul.
Starting in her first game since Sept. 9 against Dartmouth, the senior midfielder registered 56 minutes in a 1-0 win against the Blue Demons, which jumpstarted a 4-0-1 record for the Knights to close out the Big East season.
Rutgers’ victory Friday night against in-state rival Seton Hall clinched the Knights a bid in the Big East Tournament. They travel to Storrs, Conn., to play Connecticut on Thursday in the first round.
McLaughlin said winning the Big East Tournament was the team goal at the beginning of the season. The win against the Pirates gave Rutgers a chance to accomplish it.
“It was awesome,” McLaughlin said. “It was definitely a good win for team morale. We have been playing good the last couple weekends, and it was a great in-state rivalry and good for us to go into the Big East Tournament.”
While the Robbinsville, N.J., native did not start during the team’s 1-5 stretch at the beginning of the Big East season, she continued to work to regain a starting position in the midfield.
“I am definitely happy that I am starting now, but just being a part of a team, you can’t really be selfish about playing time,” McLaughlin said. “The team is playing well and we have a lot of good players this year, so I guess I just kept working hard and hoped it worked in my favor as it did. I don’t take it for granted.”
Her hard work eventually led her back into a starting role, something McLaughlin was accustomed to during her career.
She has 38 career starts for Rutgers, primarily in the midfield but also at center back.
So when Crooks made the call to have her come off the bench, it only served as motivation to close out McLaughlin’s career the way she wanted to.
“No one is happy hearing that,” she said of her reserve role. “You have to just keep playing. This is my last season so I wanted to make the most of it, and if anything it only made me work harder and realize that this is what I love and what I wanted to do. If I needed to work harder to get more minutes, that is what I was going to do.”
The result of her perseverance was on full display in the Knights’ Senior Day victory Oct. 14 against Cincinnati.
With Rutgers already up, 4-0, in the second half, McLaughlin took a pass from sophomore forward Cassie Inacio from the top of the box and drilled a goal from 12 yards out.
The score was the first of her career, something she said she will never forget.
“It was the best game I think I had here at Rutgers,” McLaughlin said. “It was my first goal here — not just this season but my career — so it really felt great. Even though it was the fifth goal of the game, it felt like an overtime game-winning goal inside.”