Two tough goalies from Notre Dame, DePaul challenge Rutgers in late push for Big East Tournament contention
Besides a trip to Texas during the out-of-conference slate, the Rutgers women’s soccer team has been able to get to its away matches by bus.
That changed yesterday, when the Scarlet Knights left by plane to Illinois for today’s game at DePaul.
With five games remaining in their Big East season, the Knights cannot afford to have their travel plans have any ill effects on their play.
“When you hop on a plane, I say it is always a little different,” said head coach Glenn Crooks. “I’d say anytime you are on the road it is different, but when you hop on a plane, that adds to the wear and tear of it. But our itinerary is cut out in a way that we are ready.”
Road trip or not, Rutgers now faces the prospect of climbing out of the Big East National Division basement to secure a spot in the Big East Tournament.
After entering league play with a 7-1 record and a national ranking, the only thing the Knights can focus on now to get to the postseason is converting on their scoring opportunities.
“I think it is definitely frustrating,” said sophomore midfielder Amy Pietrangelo, “but we need to be able to still play through it.”
The Knights sit in a three-way tie for last in their division, with the top four teams from both National and American Divisions advancing to the postseason.
The remaining two spots in the 10-team field come down to average points per game, since some teams only play 10 league games because of West Virginia’s departure this year to the Big 12.
Three of the five remaining games for Rutgers (8-6, 1-5) come against teams fighting for those last two spots in the National Division, with DePaul (7-6-1, 2-3) serving as one of them.
But with the Knights failing to score in three straight contests, they do not get a break with whom they fire their shots at, as the Blue Demons feature one of the better goalies in the league in Megan Pyrz.
Pyrz is third in the Big East in save percentage with an .829 mark, something Rutgers will have to deal with as it looks to increase its shot total.
It does not get any easier Sunday, when Rutgers travels to South Bend, Ind., for a matchup with Notre Dame (9-3-1, 5-0) and goalkeeper Sarah Voigt.
Voigt enters the game as the reigning Big East Goalie of the Week, the second Fighting Irish goalkeeper this season the league has recognized.
She is fourth in the league in save percentage and leads the Big East in goals against average with a 0.5 per-game total.
While DePaul and Notre Dame are not the ideal teams to face during a scoring slump, Crooks understands the challenge both teams present.
“They are both very good programs,” Crooks said. “DePaul has gotten better every year and Notre Dame has been traditionally a top-10 team, and they are playing like that again this year. So we have a serious challenge up against us.”
The road trip can present a problem for Rutgers, but if it does not escape with at least one win this weekend, it still has an opportunity to make the Big East Tournament.
The Knights do not leave their home state after the Notre Dame game and get both Cincinnati and Seton Hall — the two teams Rutgers is tied with for last in the division — to end their schedule.
While last is not the ideal place for the Knights, Crooks is still optimistic as the team continues to train on its own to close out the year.
“They are going above and beyond to try and get better, and they are angry about the results [from the Big East season],” Crooks said. “Everyone has remained very positive through this. Obviously losing five out of six to open up the Big East is not desirable and makes things more difficult, but if anything the intensity has been turned up a notch.”
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