Historic season comes to a close for Rutgers
Any team can set numerous goals at the start of the season, but it takes a special team to then achieve all of them.
The 2015 Rutgers women’s soccer team did all of that and more this season.
Under the tutelage of second-year head coach Mike O’Neill, the Scarlet Knights finished the 2015 campaign with a 19-4-3 overall record and 7-2-2 mark in the Big Ten.
To start the year, they won their first eight games, which set a new school record.
They went undefeated on their home field at Yurcak Field, stressing the importance of winning in Piscataway and achieving a 13-0-1 mark in games played on the Banks.
The Knights then set the school’s single season record for shutouts with 19, surpassing the 2006 team’s previous record of 16.
Rutgers' 19 victories were also the most in program history.
Finally, it became the first team in program history to reach the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament.
It was a long and historic season for the Knights that ended with a 2-0 loss to the eventual national champion Penn State in the College Cup, but the coaches and players realize that they were a part of a historic season.
“The staff and university are so proud of our team and what they have been able to accomplish this year. From day one, we’ve asked for their best and that’s what they gave us,” O’Neill said.
The senior leadership was evident from early points in the season and carried over through the bulk of the season.
Erica Skroski was one of the leaders of the senior class, winning the Big Ten Defender of the Year Award and being named NSCAA Second Team All-American.
She formed a highly formidable backline duo with fellow senior defender Brianne Reed, who won the 2015 Senior CLASS Award and was named NSCAA First Team All-Great Lakes Region for the second time in her career.
Along with other starting seniors like forward Cassie Inacio, midfielders Samantha Valliant and Hayley Katkowski and defender Maggie Morash, they formed a strong group of core players that the coaches and younger teammates could count on.
“To the seniors, we are very thankful for their time here at Rutgers,” O’Neill said. “We always talk about having an impact on the program and making sure that the program is better because you were here. That is exactly what this senior class did.”
Despite the multitude of individual awards, the Knights talked the whole year about team accomplishments and being "30 Strong," a reference to every player on the roster being capable of playing effective soccer.
True to form, a captain like Skroski was most proud of the team’s NCAA Tournament run when looking back at the 2015 season.
Rutgers had never reached the quarterfinals, but did so with a 4-0 win over Connecticut in the Sweet 16.
The Knights then followed that up with their biggest win of the season in the quarterfinals, defeating No. 1 Virginia 7-6 in penalty kicks after the teams played to a scoreless draw.
“When we made it to the Sweet 16, we were like no team that has ever made it past the Sweet 16. Once we beat UConn in the Sweet 16, we made it to the Elite Eight and we were like, 'We are not going to lose,'” she said. “'We are going to put our heart out there,' and we came out with a win against Virginia.”
There are many younger players who give the Knights a reasonable chance to maintain their success heading into next season.
Sophomore Colby Ciarrocca led the team with nine goals in her first season on the Banks since transferring from Vanderbilt, and freshmen midfielders Kenie Wright and Katelyn Walters were named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team.
Then, in net remains sophomore goalkeeper Casey Murphy, the Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year and Second Team All-American who elected to stay with the team throughout the NCAA Tournament despite being called up to the United States U-20 National Team for the 2016 U-20 FIFA World Cup qualification tournament in Honduras for CONCACAF nations.
“Even though playing for my country is a tremendous honor and it’s something I want to do when I’m done here with Rutgers, I couldn’t leave them at this time with this special of a team,” Murphy told scarletknights.com's Tom Luicci. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m excited to get back to the U-20 team and play for my country. That’s what I work for. But this team is special and I couldn’t give this up.”
Following the loss to Penn State, emotions were high for Rutgers.
The Knights were defeated by the Nittany Lions for a second time and realized their long season had just ended.
On the heels of the loss, Reed took a step back to acknowledge the pain of the defeat, but also to appreciate what the 2015 Knights were able to accomplish and show how it sets up the program in the future.
“Coming here four years ago, I never would have imagined being a part of a program that could make it to this level, so I am upset about the result,” she said. “But I think we need to take a step back and realize where we are. We brought this program to the Final Four and this is a new standard for Rutgers, and I am so proud to be a part of this team.”
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