Rutgers shows resolve leading up to College Cup
It’s been a long season for the No. 9 Rutgers women’s soccer team, but the Scarlet Knights wouldn’t want it any other way.
While the athletic department and football team are undergoing changes following its season, the Knights (19-3-3, 7-2-2) on the pitch are preparing for their biggest game in team history.
They are set to face Big Ten foe Penn State in the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament, which will serve as a veritable rubber-match after both teams have split the first two games against each other this season.
As they get ready to head down to Cary, North Carolina, for the College Cup, Rutgers reflected this week on the toughness and endurance they have showed throughout the season and in their upset victory in penalty kicks in the quarterfinals over No. 1 Virginia.
“We knew from day one that, to be successful, we need to play hard for the full 90 minutes and that’s what this team has done all season long,” said head coach Mike O’Neill. “Against Virginia, when Casey (Murphy) came up and scored (in penalty kicks), it energized everyone that was out there, and it shows that how hard everyone worked all game long is really a testament to how they have achieved their goals.”
Murphy, the sophomore Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year, posted her 19th shutout of the season against Virginia, extending her school record she has set this season.
Her intensity was on full display in the win over the Cavaliers as she worked with her backline and midfielders to shut down the second-highest scoring offense in the country and then helped her own cause with the first score in penalty kicks after the Knights trailed 2-0.
Rutgers went on to score seven straight goals in the shootout, exhibiting their ability to come back on the road against some of the best competition the sport has to offer.
“The team is definitely very, very resilient and I think that has helped us get to where we are now in the semifinals,” Murphy said. “We stayed focused for 110 minutes and throughout the penalty kicks against Virginia, and we kept our eye on the goal, and that was to make the College Cup.”
The resiliency that Murphy spoke of has been evident all year when studying how the Knights play.
They lost some key players to injury during the course of the season, such as senior midfielder Samantha Valliant, for a few games during a stretch of Big Ten play.
But the depth of their roster, being "30 Strong," as the coaches and players like to call it, has allowed them great versatility to mix newcomers and freshmen throughout the field to work in unison.
For instance, the defensive prowess of First Team All-Big Ten selections and seniors Brianne Reed and Erica Skroski has helped solidify Rutgers' backline, as they work in conjunction with Big Ten All-Freshmen midfielders Katelyn Walters and Kenie Wright.
This quartet has helped the Knights maintain possession of the ball in most of their games throughout the year and given the team confidence to play aggressively when they have forced turnovers.
“The fight we’ve shown is a testament to this entire season,” Reed said. “We’ve had our ups and downs, we’ve gotten knocked down and picked ourselves back up. It’s what we’ve been doing the whole season and it’s worked for us.”
Rutgers went undefeated at their home Yurcak Field this season, posting a 13-0-1 record on the Banks.
In the postseason, they have taken their show on the road to other schools and neutral sites, but kept their winning mentality the same.
While it has been a season of firsts for everyone involved, from the players and trainers to the coaching staff, they are not ready for it to be over quite yet.
“I’m proud that we’ve been able to accomplish getting to the College Cup, but at the same time, we aren’t done yet,” Murphy said. “There’s still some work to do.”
For updates on the Rutgers women’s soccer team, follow @Mike_OSully2 and @TargumSports on Twitter.