Rutgers awakens in season finale with road victory
A heightened sense of urgency surrounded the No. 23 Rutgers women’s soccer team entering its season finale.
As much as head coach Mike O’Neill wanted to avoid the idea, his team was reeling. The Scarlet Knights had been shutout in three consecutive games, slowly spiraling downward with their longest losing skid since 2012.
But when it came down to Friday night’s showdown with the likes of an Ohio State team looking to sneak into the Big Ten Tournament with an upset, Rutgers put its foot down and refused to let up.
The Knights rained down on the Buckeyes’ Senior Day festivities, getting back to the winning ways they have been so accustomed to throughout the course of the 2014 campaign, with a 2-0 shutout typical of the team’s hard-nosed defensive blueprint.
Most importantly, Rutgers (12-4-1, 8-4-1) locked up the No. 4 seed for the Big Ten Tournament with the win and a little help coming from a Minnesota loss to Northwestern.
Leading up to the game, a calm, cool and collected O’Neill said in practice last week that he wanted to establish consistency in play on both sides of the ball, with the offense capitalizing on its scoring opportunities.
In Rutgers’ most recent game, O’Neill saw his players finally do that.
“You go and you win that many games in a row, and then you lose a couple in a row. I just think the biggest factor is the way that it happens,” O’Neill said. “And like I said earlier, we liked everything we were doing during that time. We were just unlucky with finishing chances and then at Ohio State in tough conditions … we played good soccer and created chances, and the difference in the game was we finished the chances.”
The offense snapped out of its three-game drought without a goal behind the legs of senior forward Stef Scholz and sophomore midfielder Madison Tiernan.
Scholz struck first for Rutgers, following up on a cross from 10 yards out by junior forward Amanda DeVolk in the 20th minute for her sixth goal of the season.
“Definitely. It was a huge relief for us,” Scholz said of the goal. “The past couple of weekends we’ve had a lot of trouble finding the back of the net, so it feels good to get the offense going again heading into playoffs.”
With their first score since Oct. 17, the Knights could relax, and the play that ensued showed a much looser approach on offense.
Protecting a 1-0 lead coming out of the locker room after halftime, Tiernan wasted no time in separating Rutgers from Ohio State (6-10-3, 3-7-3).
In the 50th minute, Tiernan netted her sixth goal of the season on a rebound tap-in off sophomore midfielder Jennifer Andresen’s shot from the top of the 18-yard box.
“Actually, Jenn Andresen had a great shot on net, and, I mean, the weather … was bad, wet,” Tiernan said. “I knew I had to follow [the shot] up because the goalie was kind of bobbling everything. It kind of just landed back at me, and I just finished it.”
For Tiernan, Scholz’s goal earlier in the match was a sigh of relief.
“We’ve been kind of like easing trying to get goals. Obviously, it’s a lot of pressure on us,” she said. “… We haven’t really gotten our good looks and haven’t really finished anything. It was kind of a sigh of relief, kind of just, ‘OK. Now we’re good. Let’s just play.’”
On the defensive side of the ball, the Knights got back to the basics with their 10th shutout of the season. The mark is one shy of the 11 total shutouts they logged throughout the 2013 season.
With the Big Ten Tournament’s opening game for Rutgers awaiting on Wednesday against No. 5 seed Iowa at 10:30 a.m. at the host site, Purdue, O’Neill’s team faces a quick turnaround.
Scrambling to prepare for a run at the Big Ten Tournament crown, the Knights will frantically practice Monday and Tuesday before heading out to West Lafayette, Indiana.
But with the win, Tiernan and the Knights have turned their play back to the type that jumpstarted them to an 11-1-1 record.
“We always have a little bit of trouble on the road, and the past two weeks have been a little rough for us,” Tiernan said. “… To get that win, we know we played really well. [The win] was just good for our team morale … going into the Big Ten Championships this week. It was good to get that win under our belt.”
For updates on the Rutgers women’s soccer team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.