Rutgers hosts No. 22 Northwestern, Illinois
After defeating its first Big Ten opponent handily Tuesday, the Rutgers women’s soccer team will look to continue that success versus two conference rivals this weekend.
First, the Scarlet Knights (6-1-1) will host No. 21 Northwestern Friday at 5:30 p.m. at Yurcak Field.
The Wildcats enter the match possessing an undefeated 9-0 record, allowing just one goal all season.
Northwestern rolls into town as 1 of 3 remaining teams in Division I women’s soccer with a perfect winning percentage, including a 2-0 start to conference play.
The Knights dropped both matches they've played against the Wildcats, both coming after they joined the Big Ten in 2014, each game ending in 1-0 in overtime.
“This time around, we definitely want to get a little revenge and end their winning streak,” said senior midfielder Jennifer Andresen. “Their record doesn’t shake us at all, it just adds to the excitement.”
In the NSCAA poll, Rutgers is one spot behind the Wildcats at No. 22.
The main reason for Northwestern and the Knights owning similar rankings despite their discrepancy in wins is that the Wildcats have beat up on largely weak opponents.
After a relatively easy path in the James Madison tournament, Northwestern has played all seven of their other games in its home state of Illinois.
During that time, sophomore Brenna Lovera has paced the Wildcats offensively with 6 goals and 12 points.
Junior goalkeeper Lauren Clem has also contributed greatly to Northwestern’s success, allowing just one goal in 818 minutes of action.
Her goals against average of 0.11 is second in the NCAA, and she has a nation-leading eight shutouts.
“They’re a great team and don’t give up a lot of goals,” said Rutgers head coach Mike O’Neill. “That presents a challenge for us, but we’re looking forward to it.”
O’Neill added that the team is well aware of Northwestern’s record, but they still like their chances at spoiling that perfect mark.
The two consecutive losses to the Wildcats have left a bitter taste in the mouth of the Knights, and they are keen on getting a positive result come Friday night.
“There’s definitely an extra pep in our step,” O’Neill said. “In order to accomplish our goal of victory though, we need to focus on the task and work very hard.”
The other Big Ten foe coming to visit Rutgers this weekend is the less heralded Illinois.
The Fighting Illini have accrued three wins and seven losses on the season, and they will be attempting to snap a two-game losing skid after beginning Big Ten play with losses to Purdue and Indiana at home.
Illinois, unlike Northwestern, is still trying to figure out who its main finisher will be as six different players have scored at least one goal this season.
Senior Summer Schafer leads the Illini with just two goals and the team isn’t quite certain who will be the primary goalkeeper.
Seniors Claire Wheatly and Michelle Denley have split time in net this season for Illinois.
Wheatly is 0-3 with a 1.53 GAA and .583 save percentage, while Denley is 3-4 with a .759 save percentage and 1.00 GAA.
Despite all this, the Knights are 1-1 against Illinois all-time with the Fighting Illini defeating Rutgers last season, 2-1, in Champaign, Illinois.
Especially due to the defeats suffered in 2015, the Knights will compete extra hard to vanquish both the Illinoisan challengers they face this weekend.
“We have high expectations for the weekend,” said freshman defender Amanda Visco. “If we concentrate on the game plan, trust each other, and communicate, then we can get the results we want.”
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