Rutgers defeats No. 1 Virginia in penalty shootout, advances to College Cup Final Four
It seemed like the No. 9 Rutgers women’s soccer team was destined to suffer the same fate that has haunted the Scarlet Knights the last two seasons against No. 1 Virginia.
After the Cavaliers (19-1-3, 9-1) knocked the Knights (19-3-3, 7-2-2) out of the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons, they looked as if they were on the verge of a trifecta by controlling the possession for most of this year’s quarterfinal matchup.
But the 2015 version of the Knights are a different group, and weren’t about to let Virginia end their season for a third straight year.
Rutgers advanced to their first Women’s College Cup in school history by traveling to Charlottesville and defeating Virginia on the road in penalty kicks, 7-6, after both teams played to a draw in regulation and two overtime periods.
It is the first time the women’s soccer program has ever reached the national semifinalsand the first team at Rutgers to do so since the 2007 women’s basketball team.
“It’s a pretty special feeling, and we all recognize the significance of what this team has accomplished,” said head coach Mike O’Neill. “We want to make sure that we enjoy it, but at the same time, we still have things to get done to try to advance to the finals … The work ethic and commitment to the team shown by these players has been inspiring to watch all year long.”
The top-seeded Cavaliers entered the game as the nation’s second-highest scoring team, averaging 3.32 goals per game, and were in search of their third straight College Cup berth.
But the Knights and their nation leading goals against average (0.33 per game) neutralized the high powered attack from Virginia, not allowing the country’s top-ranked team to capitalize on its scoring chances.
Virginia outshot Rutgers, 12-6, and held an 8-2 advantage on corner kicks, but could not break through against the star-studded Rutgers backline of All-Big Ten First Teamers Erica Skroski and Brianne Reed.
The match in regulation followed a similar script that has made Rutgers so successful during the season – elite defense that frustrates opponents, coupled with decisive scoring.
“We have played Virginia three years in a row now and know that they have a strong offense, but just because they are a team with a good offensive line doesn’t mean that we are going to change how we play defense,” Reed said. “We’ve been doing the same things all year and it has all worked, so that’s exactly what we did against them this time.”
The Rutgers midfielders came through for their team in a big way this game, as the defensive stands began once the ball crossed into Rutgers territory.
A trio of veterans, Hayley Katkowski, Samantha Valliant and Jennifer Andresen, displayed crafty defending by intercepting passes and trying to create chances for their team.
Katkowski logged the full 110 minutes in the game and worked closely with freshman Kenie Wright to direct the defense and make sure that each player’s effort level remained high throughout the game.
Behind the midfield and backline and solidifying the defense was Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year Casey Murphy, who starred throughout the game by making critical saves during regulation and overtime.
The sophomore’s biggest impact may have come with a score in penalty kicks.
After both teams played to a scoreless draw through regulation and both overtime periods, they went to penalty kicks to determine a winner.
Virginia took the early advantage with scores through the first two rounds to give them a 2-0 lead, and things began to look bleak for Rutgers.
But the Knights started to show the resiliency which has won them so many games through this historic season, and started to mount a comeback.
Murphy came out of net to take a kick for Rutgers at the start of the third round and sent a shot past Virginia goalkeeper, Morgan Stearns, to move it to 2-1 in the shootout.
Virginia then had a chance to win the game in the fifth round, but Makenzy Doniak’s shot hit the crossbar to keep Rutgers alive.
Following Murphy’s goal, Rutgers reeled off seven straight scores as both teams traded goals back and forth.
Rutgers prevailed in the ninth round when junior midfielder Tori Prager’s score proved to be the game-winner after Murphy made the final save against Tina Iordanou's shot, giving the Knights a 7-6 win in penalty kicks and a trip to the semifinals.
The team then rushed to meet Murphy outside the box to celebrate their win, swarmed the talented goalkeeper and piled on each other in jubilation.
It took a complete team effort for the Knights to earn the upset victory, but Murphy’s calmness in net during such a strenuous time gave her team the spark they needed to finish the game.
“I didn’t really think about us losing and I just stayed really positive the whole time, even when we were down 2-0 in the shootout,” she said. “I think that helped us be successful in the end because we didn’t doubt ourselves and staying focused and in the zone during that time really helped us.”
The Knights are enjoying the moment and are relishing in the chance to head to Cary, North Carolina, to compete in the College Cup.
They will face fellow Big Ten foe Penn State in their semifinal matchup, which will mark the third meeting between the teams this season after they have split the first two games.
It seems fitting that the two teams will meet to determine who goes to the national championship game, but for now, the Knights plan to carry their positive vibes down to North Carolina.
“I’ve played four years here and have gotten to experience everything that shows what college soccer is all about,” Reed said. “Getting to go to the College Cup is absolutely amazing.”
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