Rutgers faces No. 21 Penn State to open Big Ten Tournament
After a crushing loss to Wisconsin Wednesday night, the Rutgers women’s soccer team fell to seventh place in the Big Ten standings.
Fortunately for the Scarlet Knights, the top eight teams in the conference make the postseason tournament, so they still have a chance at competing for a title.
“One of our goals for this season was to make the postseason and we accomplished that,” said head coach Mike O’Neill. “In order to win a championship, you need to be in the tournament and we’re in it.”
The Big Ten tournament begins on Sunday when Rutgers travels to Happy Valley to play No. 2 seed Penn State at 1 p.m. in University Park, Pennsylvania.
To earn that high position, the Nittany Lions compiled an impressive 11-3-4 record in the regular season with a 7-1-3 mark in conference play.
No. 21 Penn State earned a share of the Big Ten regular season title with a 2-0 win over Ohio State Wednesday night.
Junior forward Frannie Crouse, who finished the regular season as the top scorer in the conference with 12 goals, is the major focal point of the team’s offense and has led the Nittany Lions to the success they’ve accomplished this year.
Crouse's goal tally is especially astonishing because she has only attempted 50 shots. A respectable 23 of those tries have been on target, meaning that Crouse has scored on more than half the shots she’s put on frame.
The forward demonstrated this attacking prowess the last time the Knights played the Nittany Lions.
On Oct. 13 at Jeffrey Field in Happy Valley, Rutgers played Crouse and Penn State to a 2-2 draw in 110 minutes of action.
Crouse was one of the main reasons the two teams went to double overtime, as she scored the equalizing goal in the 67th minute.
Before that, the Knights had fought tooth and nail to hold onto a slim 2-1 advantage, but Crouse put a halt to any hopes Rutgers had of stealing a victory away from home.
“We’re starting on a clean slate in the postseason, so we don’t have to worry about the past and can just look to the next game,” said senior forward Jenna Seddon. “Beating Penn State, preparing for that match is our main focus right now.”
This Sunday, the two programs will meet in the postseason for the second consecutive year as the Knights lost to Penn State in the Big Ten championship final in 2015.
Rutgers has implemented a new manner of scheduling away games this year, which the coaching staff hopes can give the team the edge in Pennsylvania this time around.
The Knights have been traveling two nights before a match on the road instead of just the previous day this season, so they are getting on the bus Friday in lieu of Saturday for Sunday’s contest.
This strategy’s purpose is to give the Rutgers players more rest and so that they can adjust their sleep schedules to gain the proper energy to play to their potential.
“We have to make sure they get rest, so our training the next two days will be very efficient,” O’Neill said. “With all the traveling and extra minutes from overtime games that we’ve had this month, we need to get the players off their feet in order to be fresh on Sunday.”
Some recovery could greatly benefit the Knights, as they have faced both of those obstacles with high frequency over the last several weeks.
Five of Rutgers’ last seven games have come on the road and seven of the last nine games have gone into overtime.
Despite these factors the Knights are still confident in their abilities come Sunday.
“Traveling so much and all the overtimes have been tiring, but we don’t want to use that as an excuse,” Seddon said. “Penn State isn’t too far away and if we play as a team on the field with confidence, the result will come.”
Besides resting up, the Rutgers players and coaches have created several tactical schemes to achieve victory against Penn State.
The Knights are focused on the game plan and prepared to perform on both the offensive and defensive fronts.
“We need to possess the ball and have a total performance for 90 minutes,” O’Neill said. “Right now it comes down to winning and advancing and if we can take care of the details then we can win on Sunday.”
For updates on the Rutgers women's soccer team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.