Knights fall on road in Big Ten debut
The stage was set.
Along with the hype swirling around the Rutgers women’s soccer team’s inaugural Big Ten game, the Scarlet Knights boasted a top-25 ranking and undefeated record.
In their first four games of the season, they appeared dominant. Allowing zero goals in three consecutive games and holding a 9-0 margin, it’s easy to see why one may expect Rutgers to continue the trend of high play.
But on the big stage for the first time Friday night, the Knights froze, as Rutgers dropped a 2-0 road contest at the hands of Maryland.
The loss was the first of the season for the Knights (4-1-0) and the first of head coach Mike O’Neill’s head coaching career.
“I think we started confident, we started strong, we kept the ball well and then what happened was, after the first 15 minutes or so, we started to lose possession — and it took a bit out of us,” O’Neill said.
Rutgers fell behind in the opening half and was forced to play catch up.
The Terrapins (3-2-1), who improved to 3-0 on their home turf, struck in the 21st minute on Maisie McCune’s goal off a free kick.
Maryland then dug the hole deeper for the Knights just before the end of the half on a goal by Natasha Ntone-Kouo in the 45th minute.
In a second half, where Rutgers generated more shots — outshooting Maryland, 11-5 — the opportunities were there, but the execution was not.
Senior forward Stef Scholz came closest for the Knights in the 50th minute, hoping to ignite the offense just as she did in the team’s last game against Princeton, but couldn’t capitalize.
Scholz drove into the box and barely missed on a shot wide left of the net.
Even senior forward Amy Pietrangelo, who leads the team in points with seven, couldn’t get the Knights going.
Pietrangelo took six shots, but none of them were on goal.
“I think we came out really strong and ready for the game,” Pietrangelo said. “We were confident, we had a really good first 20 minutes and, you know, they hit us with two counters and had two shots on goal and I think after that we just stepped back a little until the second half when we were able to get ourselves back together and get back in our game.”
The Knights’ defense, a strong point of the team early in the season, bounced back in the second half, but the early goals conceded proved costly.
Despite the disappointment of dropping the first Big Ten game of the season, senior backer Tori Leigh insisted that Rutgers will keep its head high and shift the focus now to Michigan State on Friday.
“We’re not upset about our performance,” Leigh said. “We worked really hard, we didn’t give up, we didn’t stop trying. So, yes, we’re upset with the loss, but we’re not upset with our effort.”
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