February 20, 2019 | 27° F

Not over yet

Rutgers escapes bubble with NCAA Tournament at-large selection, first appearance since 2009 season

Photo by Noah Wittenburg |

Forward Jonelle Filigno drives against a Siena defender Aug. 26. The junior leads a scoring attack that faces Colgate on Saturday in the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

The Knights play in their first tournament game since 2009, when they lost to South Carolina, 1-0, in the second round.

When Glenn Crooks turned on the NCAA women’s soccer selection show yesterday, the head coach watched the Rutgers women’s soccer team’s postseason fate unfold without many of his players surrounding him.

“We had three quarters of our team in class,” Crooks said, “so you can’t miss class to see a selection show.”

Crooks could not share a moment with most of the team that he had not experienced since 2009, as the Scarlet Knights earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

The Knights travel to Hamilton, N.Y., to play host Colgate on Saturday in the first round, with the winner facing either second-seeded Virginia or 15th-seeded La Salle.

“We deserve the opportunity,” Crooks said. “I thought all along we deserved to get in, but when you don’t win your conference championship and you have a couple of glitches along the way, you can’t be certain about it.”

Those shortcomings Crooks referred to are Rutgers’ 1-5 start to begin Big East play after posting an impressive 7-1 nonconference record and climbing as high as No. 16 in the national rankings.

For senior goalkeeper Emmy Simpkins, the way Rutgers responded to its performance in the early stages of conference action is a testament to why the team earned a selection.

“Those matches, that was an experience,” Simpkins said. “We do have a young team, but the way we came back from those matches is what defines us, and that’s the kind of team we are. We go through adversity and we usually come up on top.”

While Crooks said he always believed the Knights would earn a bid, the up-and-down season for Rutgers does not matter now.

What matters is the Knights’ first-round game against Colgate, which qualified for the tournament after capturing the Patriot League Championship.

The Raiders defeated Navy, 1-0, Sunday in a conference tournament championship game, impressing Crooks in the process.

But he and the rest of the team still have all week to prepare for Rutgers’ first NCAA Tournament game since the Knights lost to South Carolina in 2009.

“We don’t know yet,” Crooks said of the challenges Colgate presents. “[Head coach] Kathy Brawn is a very good coach and has been there for a long time. … Certainly if they beat Navy in the final, they are going to present some problems, and they get to host.”

Simpkins does not care who they beat, as the appearance is the first tournament action for the Concord, N.C., native. She served as a backup to All-American goalie Erin Guthrie in the Knights’ last tournament appearance.

Simpkins does not want to turn her tournament experience into a one-game affair.

“[I am] excited, pumped, can’t wait,” Simpkins said. “It’s not over. This season itself has been the most special and memorable experience with the coaching staff and the girls, and I think I speak on behalf of all the seniors when I say that.”

Part of that senior class is defender Tricia DiPaolo who, unlike Simpkins, saw time when Rutgers defeated Duke in the first round of the 2009 tournament.

The co-captains’ experience is crucial for a team that featured nine underclassmen in a rotation in its last game — a 3-1 loss to Connecticut in the first round of the Big East Tournament.

“Having players who played in big games and knowing to remain calm is definitely important,” DiPaolo said. “There are a lot of nerves, so [the experienced players] are able to remain calm and then other players feed off that, and it becomes contagious.”

For updates on the Rutgers women’s soccer team, follow Bradly Derechailo on Twitter @BradlyDTargum.

By Bradly Derechailo

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