Rutgers closes out home portion of regular season
The Rutgers men’s soccer team will put its six-game winning streak on the line on Halloween at Yurcak Field.
The Scarlet Knights (10-4-1, 4-3-0) will host Nebraska-Omaha in their final home game of the regular season riding high after being ranked for the first time this season, debuting at No. 21 in the NSCAA Coach's poll.
A large part of Rutgers' recent success can be attributed to the man of the moment in the Big Ten — sophomore forward Jason Wright.
Wright was named both NSCAA National Player of the Week and Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week for his performances against Army — a 5-2 win where he scored twice — and then-No. 18 Ohio State — where he scored the only goal in a 1-0 win — last week.
Wright’s form has been stellar for most of the latter half of the season, not just the past week. The Kingston, Jamaica, native is ranked second nationally in goals (13) and has scored in every game of Rutgers’ winning streak.
“After all the work, it’s always nice to get rewarded with accolades and stuff like that. I’m pretty happy to be recognized,” Wright said. “As for my form, it’s amazing how at the beginning of the season, I struggled for a couple of games ... working hard and looking to God just provide you with that inspiration and motivation to keep going and fortunately ... I’m in good form right now and I’m staying grounded and focused on continuing this form with the team.”
The Knights' next opponent is only in its fifth season as a program, but continues to show progress with every season.
After a tumultuous 1-11-1 record in their first season as a program, the Mavericks stand at 8-4-3 entering Piscataway. They finished tied for first in the Summit League last season, a testament to head coach Jason Mims’s work.
Mims has been the only head coach Omaha’s program has known. The former Penn State assistant will see a familiar face on the other end of the touchline Saturday in Rutgers head coach Dan Donigan.
Mims played under Donigan from 1997-99, when Donigan was an assistant at Saint Louis after spending three years under the wing of legendary coach Joe Morrone at UConn.
The Knights’ sixth-year head coach knows Mims will have his guys pumped and ready to go against Rutgers.
“He’s going to have them flying, he’s going to have them buzzing,” Donigan said. “He’s a high energy guy. He’s done a great job with this program … They got a lot of different kinds of players too, so they’re going to pose a lot of different things.”
While respect will be shared between the two, their friendship will be suspended for a couple hours once the head referee blows the opening whistle. Donigan plans to show no mercy to his former pupil.
“We stay in touch all the time,” Donigan said. “He’s a guy I really respect and I like him a lot. He’s one of my favorite guys, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to kick his ass on Saturday.”
Despite the work Mims has done, Omaha isn’t an opponent that the Knights circled on their calendars upon receiving the schedule. Regardless, Rutgers will approach the final non-conference match of the regular season the same way it has all other matches in order to stay sharp heading into the postseason.
“Yeah, it’s not a conference game but we still need all the wins we could get so we could get the highest NCAA Tournament seed,” said junior midfielder Erik Sa. “We’ve been playing really well as of late … which is important, especially at this time of year. You want to be playing great and obviously you want to enter the tournament playing well. You go into every game knowing you can compete and you could beat anybody you play.”
Along with continuing their strong late-season form, a win would improve the Knights' resume as they attempt to participate in their first NCAA Tournament during Donigan’s second year at the helm in 2011.
“It’s important, it’s massive, it’s a huge task (to keep the streak alive),” Wright said. “We’re doing something good and like I said, we have to stay focused and grounded and keep working because it’s history in the making if we continue this streak.”
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