Pair of scorers come to form in Rutgers' offense
When Madison Tiernan entered the Rutgers women’s soccer program last fall for her freshman campaign, she made a lasting first impression. Her game-winning goal lifting the Scarlet Knights to a 1-0 triumph over Drexel in the season opener at Yurcak Field was a sign of positive things to come.
In her young career thus far in Piscataway, Tiernan has blossomed as a main catalyst in Rutgers’ offense. At the end of her freshman year, she finished third on the team in points with 17 after racking up six goals and five assists.
Since the beginning of her second season as a starting midfielder, there has been no sophomore slump. At the end of the regular season, she is tied for first on the team in goals and points.
The other player that shares the lead for those two categories: senior forward Stef Scholz.
Despite the respective differences in each other’s offensive attacks, the two have relied on each other to maximize their offensive game.
“Madison’s a great player. She’s very mature for age, and through her two years, she’s already had a significant impact,” Scholz said. “I just go into every game looking to do my best. … I learned a lot from Madison, too, while playing with her, so we work really well together.”
Even with Tiernan as the underclassman still wading her way through the Division I women’s soccer grounds, Scholz pointed to the mental approach and attitude her teammate embodies as an aspect she attempts to duplicate.
“Watching her actually helps me gain confidence,” Scholz said. “She’s a tough player, really aggressive, so I try to be aggressive. She will literally give up her body to score a goal, so I try to add that to my game, and when the time comes, [I’ll] lay out my body for her, for the good of the team.”
While Scholz admires the mental and physical toughness of her running mate in the midfield, Tiernan listed Scholz as an inspiration for her drive to improve her game in aspects such as speed and preparation.
“She’s so good at beating down players. She’s so fast, and I kind of just watch. Her movements are so good,” Tiernan said. “Just playing with someone who’s [been] here longer, someone who’s experienced it … it’s just like kind of a relief to play with someone who’s older and have such a good relationship off the field. I’ve learned so much from just watching her play. She’s such a good player.”
Head coach Mike O’Neill’s vision for when he took over the program was for his entire team to feed off each other and work together to bring out their best through functional, strong chemistry.
When the first-year coach looks at Scholz and Tiernan, he sees a prime example in what he set out to do: turn individuals into one stronger unit.
“They spend so much time together, so there’s no doubt about it. The experience of Stef is going to leave the impression on Madison and other younger players, and that’s what you’re really trying to do,” O’Neill said. “So I think that thought process of them playing together and making each other better is they’ve definitely benefited from that. … It’s not just the players to coaches. It’s the coaches to players and players to players.”
In their most recent game, Scholz and Tiernan united to revive a Rutgers offense that had gone scoreless since its 2-1 win against Illinois dating back to Oct. 17. Scholz got things going with a goal in the 20th minute, which Tiernan said took the pressure off her and allowed her to play loosely.
Evidently, that worked. Tiernan netted her first goal since her game-winner at then-No. 7 Penn State, and with the team finishing on a high note after last Friday’s 2-0 bounce back at Ohio State, she believes the Knights are back on track.
But two of the determining factors for how far Rutgers extends its season are Scholz and Tiernan. Out of the 26 total goals the Knights have scored on the year, 12 of them have come off the foot of either the senior forward or the sophomore midfielder.
As the road winds down and Rutgers breaks down each game one by one with the understanding that each may be its last, Tiernan said the two will continue to improve off each other as well as the rest of their teammates in order to spark a memorable postseason run.
“Our chemistry off the field is what helps us play so well on the field,” Tiernan said. “… Now, everybody is on the same page. It doesn’t matter who you are. Everyone’s record from here on out means nothing. It’s one game at a time, so I think we’re all confident going in and I’m excited for it to start.”
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