Rutgers prepares for new conference next season
When West Virginia goalkeeper Sara Keane stopped senior forward Jonelle Filigno’s penalty kick Saturday, the focus shifted to the offseason for the Rutgers women’s soccer team.
The Scarlet Knights now have nine months to prepare for a new season in their third conference in as many years.
“I think the biggest thing [to take away from the season] is that we are just as good as everyone else, if not better,” said freshman midfielder Madison Tiernan. “Next year we need to come out with a vengeance and know that we can play with these teams.”
That will include some of the country’s top teams as Rutgers moves into the Big Ten.
“We know that we’re moving into a new conference, a better conference with a higher level of competition match-to-match. That’s what we’re preparing for,” said head coach Glenn Crooks. “[Our] motivation is moving into a better conference and playing against some of the top teams in the country and seeing how we do. We think we’ll hit the ground running.”
The conference boasts eight teams that earned NCAA tournament bids. Five of those teams — Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State — advanced to the second round.
Nebraska, Michigan and Penn State each earned a seed in their individual regions and finished in the NSCAA Top 25 poll at Nos. 10, 11 and 24 respectively.
Crooks and his staff enter the offseason knowing most of the team will return, including two of its three leading scorers in Tiernan and junior forward Stefanie Scholz.
Rutgers loses just four players to graduation in Filigno, forward Maria Gerew, defender Tricia DiPaolo and goalkeeper Jessica Janosz.
The postseason run lays a foundation for the remaining players who will don scarlet and black in 2014.
“The experience of these last four games in particular shows the young players that that’s part of what it takes to win the championship,” Crooks said. “If there’s anything that’s going to be carried in, I think it’s how determined they were and how they bonded together and how they played for each other. While that occurred all year long, it really intensified in the postseason.”
Scholz, who led the Knights in scoring with 10 goals and 21 points, is able to take something else going into the offseason.
“I think the biggest thing I’ve learned this season is how much character everyone on the team has and as cliché as it is, how working with the team is more important than working as an individual,” Scholz said.
The sting of not advancing will stick with the players throughout the offseason.
“I think we are going to look back and remember how bad it hurt to lose and how bad we wanted that game,” Tiernan said.