Restless Rutgers takes advantage of break after gruesome stretch
A tired team is a struggling team.
Over the last seven games, the Rutgers women’s soccer team has certainly expended a lot of energy with six of them heading into overtime after finishing regulation without a winner. The Scarlet Knights (9-2-5, 4-1-4) are 2-1-4 in those last seven contests.
Most recently, Rutgers battled Penn State last Thursday night and Ohio State Sunday afternoon, drawing both in overtime.
“Penn State was a focus, considering the rivalry our schools take part in,” said head coach Mike O’Neill. “Getting a draw there was not easy.”
The Nittany Lions (10-2-4, 6-0-3) hold the top spot in the conference standings, but the Knights hung with them for 110 minutes.
After that gut-wrenching match, Rutgers had very little time to recover, having to travel more than 300 miles and play another respectable side.
“We were a tired team versus Ohio State,” O’Neill said. “Even though we didn’t perform our best, I think it was our best effort so far this year because our team was completely drained.”
The Knights scratched and clawed for another 110 minutes, but this time didn’t even allow a single goal.
After letting in four goals in its previous two games, Rutgers demonstrated its heart and determination by keeping Ohio State off the scoreboard. At the same time, playing in another overtime game was problematic, as the Knights failed to take care of business during the regular 90 minutes.
“We’re not always locking down on the details,” O’Neill said. “We really like where our team is at, but sometimes we lose sight of the little things.”
Rutgers has had many showcases of offensive firepower and defensive prowess throughout the 2016 campaign but has scarcely been able to put both sides of the ball together.
O’Neill, the rest of the coaching staff and the players have stressed a need to be more efficient in all aspects of the game, especially if the team wants to go far in the conference tournament.
“We definitely need to focus a bit more to reach our potential, but I would never question the players’ commitment,” O’Neill said. “We’ve played a ton of soccer recently with the overtimes, but I haven’t heard a single complaint.”
Besides the extraordinary amount of minutes played in their last seven matches, the Knights have also traveled constantly over the same span.
Rutgers has played five of its last six games on the road in four different states, so the wear and tear the players feel currently is logical.
“Warming up for Ohio State on Sunday, I could barely feel my legs,” said freshman defender Chantelle Swaby. “It’ll definitely be great to rest up this week.”
Without a game until hosting Nebraska on Saturday, the Knights will receive some necessary time off, hopefully regaining enough energy to make a late season push.
Being back home is a treasure not lost on the team as both players and coaches have been able to relax with family for the first time in weeks.
“It feels great to have a couple days with light activity or nothing at all,” said senior captain Erin Smith. “It’s much needed after the tough work we’ve been putting in as a group.”
This last stretch playing deep into overtimes on the road has been challenging for Rutgers, but the squad has shown a lot of character through only suffering one loss.
The Knights need to continue displaying strong effort in their final two matches and try to couple that with an attention on execution.
Rutgers is currently fifth in the Big Ten standings and needs just a few more points to leap into the top four in order to secure a tournament game at home.
“We need to concentrate on the details in practice this week,” Smith said. “We don’t want to let any wins slip away from us, so we need to stay focus on the task a hand.”
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