Penn State crushes Rutgers title hopes in semifinals of NCAA Tournament
It was a long and historic run for the No. 9 Rutgers women’s soccer team this season, with the Scarlet Knights reaching the national semifinals of the Women’s College Cup for the first time in program history.
The run ended on Friday evening, however, when they squared off against No. 6 Penn State for the third time this season — this time with a spot in the National Championship Game on the line.
Unfortunately for the Knights (19-4-3, 7-2-2), the match played out in similar fashion to their loss against the Nittany Lions in the Big Ten Championship game.
Rutgers fell, 2-0, in the semifinals, as Penn State (21-3-2, 8-2-1) controlled the tempo of the game throughout and advanced to the National Championship against No. 20 Duke.
“When you play against a team like that, the details are so important and there were some mistakes that we made that they capitalized on and when you get to this level, that is what happens,” said head coach Mike O’Neill. “At the same time, we are so proud to represent Rutgers University at this level.”
Like in the Big Ten title game, it was a slow start that doomed the Knights.
After both sides traded possession back and forth for the first part of the opening half, the Nittany Lions were able to capitalize on a Rutgers mistake that led to a goal.
While the Knights tried to clear the ball from their side, there was an errant back pass intended for senior center back Brianne Reed.
Penn State’s Frannie Crouse hustled to the ball from 15 yards away and launched a shot that flew over a leaping try from sophomore goalkeeper Casey Murphy, giving the Nitanny Lions a 1-0 lead in the 22nd minute.
With Rutgers defenders converging for the ball, Crouse reached the ball first, leading to the eventual game-winning goal.
“I think it was just a little bit of miscommunication,” Reed said. “The ball was long and played back to me and we just reacted a little late and she was able to get the shot off.”
Shots were even at two apiece heading into halftime, but Penn State seemed to be in control of the game and carried their momentum into the second half.
They controlled possession for most of final period and added the final blow in the 78th minute on a goal from Kaleigh Riehl, who struck the ball with her left foot into the left corner of the net for an unassisted goal and a 2-0 lead.
The two goals were the only pair the Knights gave up during their NCAA Tournament run.
Rutgers finished with five shots on the night, with only one being a shot on goal. Junior midfielder Jennifer Andresen led the Knights with two shots in the game.
Penn State recorded 12 shots, with five on target.
They also controlled the game in terms of set pieces, finishing with seven corner kicks, while Rutgers had none.
The Knights prepared during the week with a game plan that they hoped would lead to an offensive rush, but they could not emulate the success they were having the past few outings.
“They did a good job of dropping and keeping us in front of them. The idea for us was to attack them on the flanks and try to utilize the space behind their outside backs because we knew their outside backs were going to press up on our forwards,” O’Neill said. “We did not do a good enough job of that, whether they took it away or we were not aware of our surroundings.”
Murphy finished with three saves on the night, and like she does on the field, provided Rutgers with a calming influence postgame after such an emotional loss.
She reflected on what the Knights had accomplished this season with a strong mix of veterans and newcomers, and believes they can carry their success into next season.
“I am just very thankful to be a part of this team. This is a special group of seniors and we are definitely going to miss them,” Murphy said. “I am looking forward to putting another year's worth of work in with the people still here and hopefully get back here next year.”
For updates on the Rutgers women’s soccer team, follow @Mike_OSully2 and @TargumSports on Twitter.