June 26, 2019 | 82° F

RU opens conference play ranked No. 25

Photo by Dennis Zuraw |

Senior forward Amy Pietrangelo leads a Rutgers attack that has outscored its opponents 12-1 in its first four games of the season.

Going into its first Big Ten conference game of the year, the record speaks for itself.

The Rutgers women’s soccer team holds a 4-0-0 mark to its name.

In those first four games, the Scarlet Knights have outscored opponents 12-1 with the past three games resulting in dominant shutouts.

Add in a top-25 ranking, and the level of excitement rises even more.

As Rutgers heads into College Park, Maryland, on Friday for its matchup against Maryland, it does so after squeaking into the No. 25 spot of the NCSAA/Continental Tire Division 1 Women’s Poll.

The ranking is the first for the Knights since 2012.

Rutgers joins fellow conference members in No. 8 Penn State (4-1-0) and No. 9 Wisconsin (6-0-0) as the only Big Ten teams currently in the top-25.

Despite the optimism surrounding the Knights with their early season success, head coach Mike O’Neill emphasized the importance of continuing to take things one game at a time.

“We broke the season into three segments: One was preseason, the second was non-conference and the third piece was conference,” O’Neill said. “And we always tried to remind them to stay humble and hungry and make sure to focus one game at a time. Don’t look to the excitement of playing these Big Ten games until we finish the second segment. … Now that that’s over, we can focus on Big Ten play.”

The third segment, as O’Neill calls it, begins with a road trip to take on the Terrapins.

Like Rutgers, Maryland (2-2-1) is also a newcomer to the Big Ten. The Terps are winless on the road (0-2-1), but are undefeated on their home turf (2-0).

While junior forward Alex Doody leads Maryland with four points, the Knights boast four players who have matched or surpassed that mark.

Sophomore forward Jessica Puchalski (4), sophomore midfielder Madison Tiernan (6), senior forward Stef Scholz (6) and senior forward/midfielder Amy Pietrangelo (7) head a Rutgers offensive attack that appears to outweigh Maryland’s on paper.

Despite the disparity on the surface, Scholz knows better than to judge any team on statistics.

“Well, we’ve just been taking it one game at a time. Now, this week, the focus is on Maryland, then conference [play] is starting, so there’s always a little bit more excitement in the air,” Scholz said. “… We’re really excited to come out and play really well against them.”

If the Knights overcome the Terrapins, it would be the second 5-0 start in program history and the best start to a season since 1996.

With the new ranking, undefeated start and buzz surrounding Rutgers, it would be easy to assume an easy victory. Clearly, the Knights ride into this game as the presumed favorites.

But to freshman goalkeeper Casey Murphy, the Knights continue to approach each game with a chip on their shoulders.

“I’m just looking forward to going in as an underdog and putting on a show,” Murphy said. “I’m excited to see how we do as a team in our first Big Ten performance.”

Garrett Stepien

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