August 22, 2019 | 89° F

Rutgers eyes No. 4 seed at Ohio State

After an 11-1-1 start highlighted by a statement win over then-No. 7 Penn State, it seemed as if the Rutgers women’s soccer team was poised to make a run and seize the Big Ten regular season crown.

But ever since that glorious win in Happy Valley, things have been anything but joyous. The Scarlet Knights squeezed out a come-from-behind win over Illinois in their first game back in action, followed by three losses in a row.

The lack of offensive production has been an ongoing problem as of late for No. 23 Rutgers (11-4-1, 7-4-1). The Knights haven’t registered a goal in three games dating back to Oct. 17 and have been outscored 4-0 by the likes of lowly Northwestern, then-No. 12 Wisconsin and an average Minnesota team.

Despite the recent struggles, Mike O’Neill hasn’t hit the panic button just yet. With one last game remaining on the regular season schedule at Ohio State (6-9-3, 3-6-3) Friday night, the first-year head coach sees a perfect opportunity for his team to get back to its winning ways.

“The thing that I’m looking for the most is consistency because over the past game and a half, we’ve been very consistent in our soccer,” O’Neill said. “So if we have that consistency and we continue to play good soccer, we’re going to continue to create opportunities. And then when we create the opportunities, [we] just want them to take a deep breath, composure, no pressure, slide it home.”

Entering this weekend tied for fourth in the Big Ten with Iowa and Minnesota, the always complicated yet interesting scenario game comes into play for how Rutgers can lock up the No. 4 seed for the Big Ten Tournament at Purdue.

Due to the head-to-head advantage over Iowa from the 1-0 win earlier in the season, a Rutgers win and a Minnesota loss or draw would clinch the conference’s No. 4 seed. 

If the three teams post the same result over the weekend — win, loss or draw — the Knights receive the upper hand as a result of a third tiebreaker for points against teams seeded above the trio of tied teams.

But entering the season finale in Columbus, Ohio, Rutgers has refused to worry about what Minnesota and Iowa might do this weekend. Instead, the focus around the team has centered on how it can improve from the previous match and better itself for the approaching postseason.

Junior backer Erica Skroski discussed how the team has gotten back to basics. With the build up of the final match of the 2014 regular season slate in mind, the co-captain expects her teammates to rise to the occasion and rebound at the right time to establish momentum into the postseason.

“I just think everyone on this team knows what we’re capable of. And we have been playing well — it’s not that we haven’t,” Skroski said. “We just haven’t been finishing our opportunities, and I think everyone this weekend is just going to come out ready to go. … We want to go into the tournament on our game, so I think everyone’s just really going to be excited, and I think it’s just going to be a really good game for everyone.”

Despite the recent struggles on offense, the defense, statistically, continues to advertise itself as one of the best in the country. The Knights rank 11th in goals allowed average and 18th in save percentage (.852) behind freshman goalkeeper Casey Murphy. 

Hosting their Senior Day and needing one more win along with a Maryland loss or draw to sneak into the Big Ten Tournament as the No. 8 seed, the Buckeyes are expected to hit Rutgers with their best shot. 

Forward Sammy Edwards leads a middle-of-the-pack Buckeyes scoring offense with a team-best six goals and 13 points on 15 shots in her freshman campaign. 

But while the defense for Rutgers will be expected to stand its ground as always with a rejuvenated Ohio State attack, the difference-maker rests on the question of whether the offense will finally step up and capitalize on its scoring chances. 

Although the theme seemed redundant, the belief that the Knights will take advantage of all opportunities when they enter the McClimon Complex was embedded into the mind of each player.

“I think bottom line is we’re going to finish our opportunities this weekend,” said junior backer Brianne Reed. “Yes, we’ve let in goals, but that doesn’t mean we’re not doing what we’re supposed to do defensively. We’re organized. [Opponents have] had a few lucky goals, [but] we’re going to get back to getting our shutouts. We’re going to get back to scoring goals, and we’re going to win that game.”

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

Garrett Stepien

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