Rutgers awaits NCAA selection fate
The plan was simple.
From the forefront of the 2014 season, the Rutgers women’s soccer team had aspirations to take the Big Ten by storm and seize the prestigious women’s soccer conference crown without hesitation.
Despite a recent three-game losing skid, the Scarlet Knights got back to basics and seemed to have returned to form with a 2-0 shutout at Ohio State in the regular season finale.
But after a stunning 1-0 loss to fifth-seeded Iowa in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Conference Tournament, Rutgers finds itself playing the waiting game upon its return to Piscataway.
While it’s clear this wasn’t how the blueprint was drawn up, Mike O’Neill’s team is regrouping.
Even with the uncertainty that lingers as the Knights await their fate by announcement of the NCAA Tournament selection committee regarding whether their season would continue with an at-large bid, O’Neill noted the only thing left to do is continue to push to get better.
“The NCAA announces the bid on Monday, so we’ll get [the players] a few days off to kind of get their feet back first because we’ve been traveling for the past three weeks,” he said. “Get home, practice for a couple days, fly, get home, couple of practices and then we’re flying again. So, I think we really need to get them off their feet a couple of days and then bring them in Saturday … to stay sharp.”
While it is O’Neill’s first year on the job as head coach, the landscape manifesting before him of his team’s season is one he has seen before.
Following an 11-2-1 start last year, the Knights dropped two of their last four matches in a skid where they went 1-2-1 and finished the regular season slate at 12-4-1.
Despite an AAC Tournament run that merited more success than this year’s early exit in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Conference Tournament, the increased quality of teams in Rutgers’ new conference balances out the scaling of judgment on the results.
With a selection committee evaluating the resumes of each school for a slot in the 64-team field, the Knights should still feel confident in their chances, even with the acknowledgement of their slip to the finish line.
Three of the past four losses recorded have all been 1-0 shutouts, which, ironically, was something Rutgers had been on the winning side of all season long. Prior to that losing stretch, O’Neill’s squad had squeezed out a total of six 1-0 shutout wins.
In the mind of junior backer Brianne Reed, the only thing she and her teammates can do in the meantime is continue to strive for improvements as they wait to see if their postseason will continue.
“We’ll keep training, doing whatever we need to do to be prepared for, hopefully, whoever we play in the first round [of the NCAA Tournament],” Reed said.
After an 11-1-1 start to the season that seemed to have Rutgers on the fast track to one of the greatest seasons in the program’s 30 years of rich history, O’Neill admitted it would be a shame for his team to not have a shot at redemption.
But in the meantime, O’Neill said his players would receive necessary rest and treatment prior to revving things back up before the NCAA Tournament opens.
“I think we feel good about our chances, but we’re obviously not going to take our foot off the gas pedal while we wait,” O’Neill said. “So it’s all about we take [Wednesday’s match against Iowa] and try to figure out a way to get better from it.”