Senior forward leads Rutgers' second-half explosion at Princeton
At first, the two teams were evenly matched.
Going into the half, the Rutgers women’s soccer team was up just one goal. Despite being a heavy underdog, Princeton gave the Scarlet Knights a challenge.
With Princeton opening its season last Friday night at home against the Knights, head coach Mike O’Neill knew that the Tigers’ optimistic energy would be plentiful.
“One of the things we addressed before the game was that it’s Princeton’s opening game, so we knew that they would come out with a lot of energy,” O’Neill said.
Outside of the 1-0 deficit after an early goal by senior forward/midfielder Amy Pietrangelo in the seventh minute, the Tigers matched the Knights on the field with five shots on goal and a stout defense that did not allow as much as a sniff near the net in the final 18 minutes of the half.
Initially, Rutgers was given a challenge.
But that challenge soon vanished into the night.
Led by senior forward Stef Scholz, the Knights erupted for four goals in the second half and buried the Tigers by a final score of 5-0 at Mysik Field at Roberts Stadium.
Scholz got the offense’s wheels turning immediately coming out of the locker room, wasting no time with a goal in the 52nd minute.
After what initially seemed to look like a save by Princeton goalkeeper Darcy Hargadon on a corner kick, Hargadon bobbled the ball before letting it loose, where Scholz hopped on the opportunity and buried the ball in the back of the net to put Rutgers up, 2-0.
Scholz, who exploded for four goals last year against the Tigers, knew coming out of the locker room at halftime that the Knights needed to initiate some source of momentum.
“We talked during halftime that we needed to extend our lead a little bit, and we weren’t really playing our style that we normally do,” she said. “So, we came out really strong in the second half and started our attack really, really well and then kicked it in the back of the net to extend our lead.”
Nearing the midway point of the second half, lightning struck twice.
Scholz found the back of the net once again in the 68th minute, thanks to a great feed off of a header by junior backer Brianne Reed.
What came next demonstrated why the Knights were the better team.
On a free kick from 35 yards out, junior forward Rachel Cole booted a laser shot into the back of the net in the 76th minute to make it 4-0.
Then, right before the final horn sounded, freshman midfielder Tori Ahde used every bit of time the 90 minutes allowed. On a last-second shot from the left sideline of the 18-yard box, she scored her first career goal to put the finishing touches on the game and finalize the margin at 5-0.
The outing was similar to last year’s matchup with the Knights’ Garden State neighbors from the Ivy League, where they went on to win 5-1.
This time around, O’Neill thought that the team’s effort was even stronger.
“What we also talked about in the first half was the importance of being a 90-minute team,” O’Neill said. “The thing I enjoyed about the first half was we were put under pressure a bit — and every game you’re going to be put under pressure — but I liked the idea that we were put under pressure and not breaking.”
O’Neill said that the defense and its “bend-don’t-break” mentality set up for the fireworks that ensued in the second half.
He credited a formidable back four — the backbone of a defense that has pitched three shutouts in a row — for how functional the offense subsequently operates on the other side of the field.
It also makes life easier for freshman goalkeeper Casey Murphy, who improved to 4-0 in the net after recording three saves against Princeton.
As a part of that back four, Reed feels that the defense — and the entire team as a whole — has gotten the ball rolling.
“Our defense organizes our midfield really well and then, as a back line, we have chemistry,” Reed said. “We know how each other plays and we play off each other’s strengths, so I think we found a good connection and we just have to keep rolling with that right into our Big Ten play.”
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