Rutgers youth gains experience during tournament run
From the moment the Rutgers women’s soccer team was slated to play La Salle in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, the news brought a rush to Casey Murphy.
In a year filled with firsts, the freshman goalkeeper has been exposed to an entirely new world on the collegiate soccer level.
When the Big Ten Conference Tournament crept up, the hype began to swirl. But after a disappointing 1-0 loss against Iowa, the fourth-seeded Scarlet Knights exited the postseason with their season in jeopardy.
Following the entry to the NCAA Tournament along with the result of a dominant 2-0 shutout over the 10th-seeded Explorers, the seventh-seeded Knights have found a sense of resurgence and re-identification.
One of those players is Murphy, who has enjoyed a successful first year as the starting goalkeeper for Rutgers with 59 total saves on the season and a .855 save percentage.
In her first action between the posts in the Round of 64, the experience was everything she thought it would be. Murphy attributed the unique atmosphere created by the dedicated fans, friends and family in attendance to what helped drive the Knights to their impressive performance.
But what has also opened the rookie’s eyes has been the input from the upperclassmen on the team.
With a defensive backline consisting mostly of juniors, Murphy has picked her teammates’ brains, which has aided in creating an environment in the net where constant communication has keyed the unit to become one of the best in the country.
“All the upperclassmen and even some of the underclassmen have been huge role models for me. I’ve looked up to them,” Murphy said. “They’ve really been a great example coming in, from preseason to now, so [I’m] very appreciative of that and I know its because they received that.”
Through senior forward Stef Scholz’s eyes, the progression Murphy has shown on the fly as a starter in her freshman year has proven the grit and mentality necessary for her to succeed immediately and for the remaining three years of eligibility she possesses.
A four-year starter who also began her career at Rutgers with impactful play, Scholz reflected on her time as it comes closer to a close and offered advice to Murphy and younger players still getting settled in.
“I would just say that I really hope they learn to try to live in the moment because, this does go by in the blink of an eye,” Scholz said. “I’m already here in my senior year, and I just hope they enjoy it and work hard every day because you’ll never be able to get those days back.”
Being around the program for 14 years now, head coach Mike O’Neill generally described the leadership the upperclassmen, like Scholz, have had on the up-and-coming players such as Murphy.
“I think the program that is most important is the upperclassmen. They always lead by example,” O’Neill said. “In everything we do on and off the field … [the upperclassmen] bring these kids along. They tell them what to expect. We, as a coaching staff, we can do that as well, but these players have been through it. They have that experience.”
As Rutgers gets set to face its greatest competition of the season with a game at second-seeded Virginia, the focus is clearly on the game-by-game process to advance further in the tournament.
But when O’Neill looks at his crop of players and how they can continue to grow, he looks no further than the ones who have been in Piscataway the longest.
“That’s what’s so special about the program is that the girls look after each other,” he said. “… You can take someone like Casey and go, ‘Yes, this is her first time experiencing the NCAA and the excitement of the matches.’ … I think when you take [Murphy and Scholz], and it really prepares [Murphy] to be successful. I think that’s a big piece of why she is so successful and why she is so good.”
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