June 26, 2019 | 82° F

Rutgers aims to dominate in return home

Photo by Tian Li |

Junior forward Amanda Devolk and the Knights look to win with conviction against Indiana to send a message to the Big Ten.

When the No. 25 Rutgers women’s soccer team ventured out to the Midwest last weekend to take on Nebraska and Iowa, it departed on Wednesday and returned late at night on Sunday.

The short week of preparation leading up to the games, culminated with a grueling double-overtime draw and a 1-0 squeeze of a win, left the Scarlet Knights exhausted.

When the team finally arrived back on campus, sophomore Erin Smith was one of many on the team comforted by home.

“It feels good to be back now, but I missed home after a long week,” Smith said. “It’s weird because you never realize like how much you could miss New Brunswick from being away, but it was a good experience.”

After a day off to gather themselves on Monday, the Knights got back on the grind Tuesday and Wednesday to prepare for Thursday’s game against Indiana at 7 p.m.

The return to Yurcak Field is a comforting one for Rutgers, which is a perfect 5-0 at home on the season and has outscored its opponents in dominating fashion by a 9-1 margin.

Going up against the struggling Hoosiers (5-7, 1-5) and their poor RPI ranking, it’s crucial for the Knights to keep up their dominant play on their home turf.

Despite grabbing four points last weekend after tying Nebraska and knocking off Iowa on the road, Rutgers remained stagnant in the rankings for this week at No. 25.

In order to maintain their ranking and build further upon their NCAA Tournament resume, junior forward Amanda Devolk said the Knights not only need to grab the win over any mediocre opponents, but to do so with conviction.

“It’s huge. … The middle-tier teams you kind of need to go in and show who’s boss,” Devolk said. “I mean, you can’t just go in and beat teams 1-0 that are OK, you’ve got to put them away, and I think that will show the rest of the Big Ten that we’re here to stay and that we mean business.”

Indiana enters tonight reeling, having lost five of its past six games. The lone win came against Northwestern, which has yet to get in the win column in Big Ten play (0-5-1).

On the offensive side of the ball, junior midfielder Jessie Bujouves leads the Hoosiers with 11 points and five goals.

But as a whole, Indiana’s offense is among the worst in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers are dead last in goals per game (1.17) and rank 13th in assists.

With a stout defense, Rutgers boasts a perfect counter and distinct advantage.

The Knights possess one of the best defenses in the conference through nine games, tied with No. 13 Wisconsin in goals allowed (four) and tied for third in shutouts with six.

But to head coach Mike O’Neill, the comparison between the two teams goes out the window. Returning home, O’Neill stressed the focus of the team to take advantage of another opportunity to get better.

“We try to do our best to really make [the focus] about us,” he said. We have watched tape already [of the Iowa game] and we’ll go back and look at things we were happy with and some areas we need to improve upon, and that’ll be our focus.”

Perhaps the biggest advantage for Rutgers is the opportunity to finally catch a breath.

Finally back at home and back to a schedule closer to the norm, Devolk pointed to the constant communication between the coaching staff and the players as a key to how the Knights have been able to stay ready.

“I think that the recovery process that we’ve been following is crucial to our success so far,” Devolk said. “Everyone’s been taking care of their bodies, taking care of their nutrition, making sure we’re ready to go and the coaches have done a pretty good job about listening to us about our bodies so we can get the rest time that we need.”

For updates on the Rutgers women’s soccer team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

Garrett Stepien

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