Rutgers hosts biggest challenge yet with No. 20 Connecticut
When the No. 19 Rutgers women’s soccer team returns to action on Sunday at Yurcak Field, it will do so looking to accomplish something no other team in program history has done — start the season 7-0.
The Scarlet Knights (6-0) have won their first six games of the season, finishing every game with a clean sheet.
They will finish their non-conference slate on Sunday against No. 20 Connecticut, giving them their toughest opponent yet as they look to make history.
“It’s going to be a very big test for us and we have to be ready to play,” said head coach Mike O’Neill. “It’s another NCAA game and at the end of the year, these are the kinds of games that (the selection committee) will look at. We have a great deal of respect for the UConn women’s soccer program and their coaching staff. We expect it to be a heck of a game.”
As the Knights prepare for Big Ten play, the matchup against the Huskies will provide them with an opportunity to see how they fare against competition closer to their level of play.
While there have been some close games, Rutgers has handled its first six opponents with major control in each game.
The Knights have dominated possession and recorded double-digit shots in each contest while scoring three goals in each of the last two games.
Against Drexel, they recorded a season-high 20 shots, along with another season-high 18 corner kicks.
The defense has also been impermeable to date, not allowing many chances or any goals for the opposition.
Sophomore goalkeeper Casey Murphy only needed to record three saves in the team’s last victory against Drexel, showing how dominant Rutgers has been in controlling the ball.
She knows her team will have to be on its game in similar fashion to stymie the Huskies, but believes the Knights are ready to step their game up some more.
“UConn is a really good squad this year and it will be a big challenge for us,” Murphy said. “We’re just focused on the challenge and going out there and getting another win.”
O’Neill is very pleased with how Murphy and her teammates recognize the importance of each unit on the field working together, especially against a tough Connecticut team.
“We talk so much about the team dynamic … It’s team first and that’s Rutgers University,” he said. “In the women’s soccer program, we are looking to bring in quality people and quality players that understand that they are part of something that’s bigger than them, which is the team. The way they treat each other impresses me everyday.”
While the focus has been on overall team play, there was some individual recognition during the week.
Senior forward Cassie Inacio was named Big Ten Women’s Soccer Player of the Week on Tuesday after she scored two goals in a victory over Princeton last week.
The Manalapan, New Jersey, native is in her third year as a captain and is putting together a fine campaign in her final year as a graduate student that has inspired her teammates to also elevate their games.
She has become close with junior center back Erin Smith, who has also become a team leader trying to instill a strong work ethic amongst her younger teammates.
“We have been working very hard in practice and trying to stick to our routine,” Smith said. “We don’t take any days off and we all know that the goal is to win each game, so playing UConn will be another step to get to where we want to be.”
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