Knights make run to NCAAs
The Rutgers women’s soccer team finished its season in mid-November following a hard-fought 90 minutes of regulation and another 20 minutes of overtime against former Big East rival West Virginia in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
For the third straight match, The Daily Targum’s Team of the Year was forced to penalty kicks, where it ultimately failed to advance after not matching the Mountaineers penalty kicks, 3-0.
It was the fourth straight overtime match and the third straight to end with penalty kicks.
The Knights had split the previous weekend’s shootout attempts, beating Memphis, 2-1, in five rounds. Senior defender Tricia DiPaolo was the fourth kicker for Rutgers, stepping up just after the Tigers had equalized. The seventh-year senior said despite the pressure-packed situation, nerves did not get to her.
“For me, I wasn’t very nervous stepping up to take my penalty kick,” DiPaolo said. “I wanted to go and tried to just block that stuff out. The more you overthink it and more you get nervous and think about it, the more likely you are to make a mistake. So [my way of handling it] was to just stay cool, calm and collected and just get the job done.”
DiPaolo’s kick proved to be the game winner after the fifth Memphis attempt went over the goal and helped the Knights advance to their first conference championship match since 2006.
The title match against Central Florida was also unable to be decided after 110 minutes of scoreless soccer. For the second straight match, Rutgers went to penalty kicks.
Rutgers and UCF were evenly matched throughout the first five kicks, sending the game to sudden-death extra kicks.
Freshman striker Madison Tiernan, who finished third on the team in scoring, saw her penalty kick stopped by UCF goalkeeper Connie Orgen in the ninth round of kicks.
Senior forward Jonelle Filigno left Rutgers as the program’s all-time leader in game-winning goals with 17. She also finished the season second in goals and points behind junior forward Stefanie Scholz.
Filigno was injured in the AAC semifinal match against Memphis that prevented her from taking the pitch in the title match or NCAA tournament, but was grateful for the role she played.
“Unfortunately, I was injured for the last third of the season so I played a different role on that Rutgers team, more of a supportive senior player to get my team going,” Filigno said. “… It was kind of cool to be on the other end and be a positive leader for my team off the field.”
Despite the failure to advance, the Knights earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
Head coach Glenn Crooks said the AAC Championship match was where the support from various colleagues poured in.
“A lot of people at Rutgers [and] a lot of people across the country — friends colleagues, recruits — watched that conference championship game at UCF that ended 0-0 and we failed to advance on penalty kicks,” Crooks said. “The common theme of the feedback I got was how proud we should be of the girls because of how hard they worked and how well they represented the university.”
That support started on the Rutgers campus as head football coach Kyle Flood had gathered his staff to watch the match.
“It started with Kyle Flood, who had his entire coaching staff in his office watching the penalty kicks, which didn’t go our way,” Crooks said. “But a lot of people saw that game and I think that really represented who we were this year — a team of girls who fought for each other, who stayed together no matter what kind of adversity there might have been.”
Crooks was quick to point out the support of the coaching staff — associate head coach Michael O’Neill, First assistant coach Meghan Ryan and Goalkeeper coach Josh Osit — as well as the training and academic advising staffs as being critical to the success this season.
“It truly was an unforgettable season. Part of it was the people that I’m surrounded with,” Crooks said. “It’s absolutely critical to have a lot of different elements to have a successful year or to have a successful program. The Rutgers University women’s soccer team is blessed in many ways. … It’s a great staff.”
DiPaolo said that the highlights of the season were those she was able to share with her teammates.
“Celebrating those big wins with our teammates, especially in the tournament,” DiPaolo said. “The penalty kicks and then [more] penalty kicks; Rachel Cole’s goal to send us into the [next round of the tournament]. Just celebrating with your teammates in those big moments is something you’ve got with you forever.”