Rutgers preps to make impact in looming Big Ten debut
Throughout the entire athletics program at Rutgers, there is no describing the magnitude of the move to the Big Ten conference. Academically and athletically, the University can expect to take off in one of the nation’s premier collegiate conferences.
For the Rutgers women’s soccer team, the expectations are much of the same.
Going from the Big East to the AAC to the Big Ten all in a matter of three years, the bounce around has been an interesting one, to say the least.
But the Scarlet Knights believe they have found a home — and one that they can flourish in as perhaps the best women’s soccer conference in the country.
“I think that, foremost and overall, the Big Ten is one of the best academic and athletic conferences in the country. There’s no doubt about that,” said head coach Mike O’Neill. “The thing that’s going to dictate our success is our consistency. Every game is going to be a battle, and we talk about the consistency in everything we do … so, that’s one of the things we discuss from day one: we want [the players’] best every day.”
With the heightened competition in the quality of the opponents Rutgers is set to face on a weekly basis, the Knights are embracing the challenge of being the new kids on the block.
Senior forward Stef Scholz, who has been around during the team’s jumps from conference to conference in the past three years, is eager to show what she and Rutgers can bring to the table in the Big Ten during her final year.
“The games are a lot bigger I feel like, but we’re ready,” Scholz said. “We’re coming off a really good start to the season, and we’re taking in practice. We’re going to be really focused.”
After a Big Ten record eight teams reached the NCAA Tournament last year, it is easy to see why the conference is in the discussion for the best women’s soccer conference in all of Division 1.
Aside from the Knights with their at-large berth, the AAC sent only two other teams to the Tournament in Louisville and Central Florida.
With Rutgers returning a plethora of core and impact players, the dominant 4-0 start to the season speaks for itself in that the Knights can compete right away and nudge arms with the elite teams that have sat high above the standings for years.
But taking a deeper look in, the impact on recruiting can be bigger than it ever has before.
With the roots that O’Neill and associate head coach Meghan Ryan have in New Jersey girls club soccer, the pitch to play with the best in the Big Ten can only add to the allure of joining the Knights.
Despite committing early to Rutgers at the end of her sophomore year of high school when the program was a member of the Big East, freshman goalkeeper Casey Murphy’s excitement grew more when the move to the Big Ten was announced in late November 2012.
“I was very excited to hear that. I think the competition is a lot more challenging, but that’s something, as a team, being here, we can handle,” Murphy said. “I think, being a new member of the conference, we’re going to be nervous and anxious at first, but I think we’ll settle in just right.”
After committing to Rutgers with the intent of playing soccer at a high level in the Big East at the time, junior defender Brianne Reed saw the move to the Big Ten as a game-changer for the program.
Now that the Knights are officially members and can embark on their inaugural journey in the conference beginning on Friday at Maryland, Reed feels they are ready to make their first impression a memorable one.
“We’re going to get so many more looks because people are going to know Rutgers around the country — not just the academics. They’re going to know us for our sports,” Reed said. “For our soccer program, I think we’re ready. I think we’ve proved ourselves so far, and I’m ready to play these other teams so they know we’re here to stay.”
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