Rutgers prepares for elite foe in second-round match
As the seconds on the scoreboard ticked down in Hamilton, N.Y., last weekend, Cassie Inacio could not help but notice the nerves present in her first NCAA Tournament match give way to excitement.
The Rutgers women’s soccer team’s victory against Colgate was something the sophomore forward will never forget.
“The environment that was there was out of this world, I can’t even describe it,” Inacio said. “Getting the win, it was the best feeling in the world.”
Though not his first playoff victory, head coach Glenn Crooks knows the win was important for the less experienced members of his roster.
“The young players in that game were playing in their first NCAA [Tournament] game, so a win in that game is certainly going to help them in this second round,” Crooks said. “Individuals handle each situation a little bit differently in a game like that, and you can see some of those people were very nervous, some people not as much.”
Inacio and the rest of the Scarlet Knights have to trade in their nerves earlier if they want to repeat the feeling they had at the end of the game in upstate New York.
Virginia, the Knights’ second-round opponent, enters with a better résumé than the Patriot League team, boasting a No. 3 national ranking and an ACC Tournament Championship.
Crooks knows the Cavaliers (17-4-1) are arguably the best team the program will encounter all season.
“They are one of the best teams I’ve watched this year in terms of not forcing things and finding the better option, and they are so good at that,” Crooks said. “That is why you have to be very organized and communicate on the defensive side of the ball.”
While Virginia’s track record this season most certainly labels Rutgers (13-7-1) as the underdog in the match, the Knights’ strength of schedule should benefit them even if the nerves still carry when they step on the field.
Four teams on the Knights’ schedule remain in the tournament as of yesterday, including Notre Dame, which Rutgers pushed to a 2-2 draw in October.
Marquette, Georgetown and Texas A&M all captured victories to advance to the second round, while Ohio State and Stony Brook — both Rutgers wins in the regular season — exited in the first stage.
Crooks has always favored trying to set up the Knights’ out-of-conference schedule to mirror the competitiveness of league play.
Tonight’s match is exactly the reason to do so.
“Every year, we play the best teams in the country,” Crooks said, “so there shouldn’t be a different feel in terms of the opponents except the fact that they are a very good team and we have a lot of respect for them.”
No matter what benefit Rutgers’ schedule was to it, the Knights still have the task of keeping All-American Caroline Miller out of the box as much as possible.
Miller has 17 goals this season, including one in each of her last four games.
Even with junior forward Jonelle Filigno showcasing talent that needs to be accounted for by the Cavalier defense, Inacio knows Rutgers’ fate cannot all rest on her teammate’s foot.
She believes the remedy is a fast, aggressive approach on the defensive side of the ball to limit Miller’s attempts, something the Knights demonstrated at Colgate.
“It is very important for us as a forward line to just be organized defensively and to make sure they don’t get those long balls to put stress on our backs,” Inacio said. “So it is really important to come out in the beginning and make sure that we get it done.”
Winner of four of its last five games, Rutgers has no better time than now to stage an upset.
But Crooks also knows he has set the team up the best way he could.
“We are at Virginia, so I would imagine in the soccer community we aren’t expected to win,” Crooks said. “There will be times in this match that we have to battle through, and I just feel very strongly that anything that comes up we will handle. It only takes one chance, and sometimes that results in a goal, so who knows. But we are very confident going into this thing.”
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