Rutgers looks to defend winning streak on road trip
The No. 11 Rutgers women’s soccer team will once again put its winning and shutout streaks on the line. This time, the Scarlet Knights (8-0, 1-0) travel to Champaign for a match up against Illinois for the middle of a three-game road stretch.
The Knights opened up their conference slate with a 1-0 victory on the road over Maryland. With the Fighting Illini (6-2-1, 0-1-1) on Thursday and Northwestern on Sunday, Rutgers looks to push the best start in program history even further.
It will be another tough contest against a Big Ten foe, but head coach Mike O’Neill believes traveling will not be a distraction for the Knights and that they can stay focused as they enter the rigorous part of their fall season.
“We will continue to stay focused on us. And whether the games are home or away, we are just focused on getting results,” he said. “In order to have a good season, you have to get results no matter where the games are. We know that every game in the Big Ten is a battle and we really need to focus on ourselves.”
Following the team’s win over Maryland last Friday, Rutgers returned to campus later that night and had practice Saturday morning where the Knights immediately began preparation for the week ahead.
With the potential of fatigue settling in during the road trip, the traveling from three consecutive road contests can take a toll. Knowing they will need to be as fresh as they can be for a quick turnaround at Northwestern after the match with Illinois, O'Neill and his staff made an effort to hone in on conditioning during the week.
“Having two games in the same weekend, it’s the first time in the regular season that we’ve had to face this, so our depth will be critical,” O’Neill said. “We looked at what we did in the Maryland game and saw some things we did well and other things we can improve upon over the weekend.”
One aspect of their game which will be hard to improve is the Knights' stellar defense.
Their shutout streak has carried over into Big Ten play and stands at 720 minutes. Cornell (6-0-2) is the only other team in the country to not have allowed a goal, but Rutgers is the only team in the nation that has done that without a tie or loss.
Senior defender Brianne Reed played a large role in creating the stout defense for her team and knows the high level of play will need to continue against conference foes.
“We have to be smart this weekend because it will be a quick turnaround for us,” she said. “I think we’ll be ready to play Illinois. They are a very good team but we have placed a bigger focus on winning away games this year, so that’s the task at hand right now.”
During the first few contests of the season, the Knights were getting off to slow starts offensively, scoring decisive goals later in matches.
In recent wins over Connecticut and Maryland, they have scored in the opening minutes of matches, getting jump-started quickly.
To the Knights, it does not matter much when they score, but rather that they do score. They will take the goals however they come.
“We want to keep being efficient with our crosses and preventing the other team from getting the ball,” said senior midfielder Samantha Valliant. “We need to keep finishing our opportunities, because it doesn’t always matter how many shots you get, all that matters are the shots that go in the net. We also need to keep staying solid on defense.”
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