Rutgers' best games under head coach Mike O'Neill
The Rutgers women’s soccer team got “one of those moments” as head coach Mike O’Neill put it this past weekend.
With 12 seconds left in a must-win game, sophomore forward Amirah Ali made possibly the Scarlet Knights’ (5-1-3, 1-0-1) biggest kick of the season thus far, delivering a huge win right before a long road trip.
It was the kind of moment that the program has come to be familiar with over the past four seasons. In O’Neill’s tenure, the team has played to a record of 64-18-19, and qualified for the NCAA tournament each of the past four seasons, as it looks to make it five in a row this year.
With the thrilling win against Iowa now in the books, it seems like a good time to take a look back at the similarly significant wins under O’Neill’s tenure and the moments that have defined a prosperous four-year stretch.
5. Wisconsin @ Rutgers, Oct. 1, 2017: Ali walks it off in overtime
Ali’s clutch shot against the Hawkeyes this past Sunday was familiar territory for the swifty sophomore as, according to her, it was only her second most impressive moment as a Knight. What she believes to be her signature moment came last year in her freshman season.
Against the then-No. 12 Badgers on a nationally televised stage, the two teams played to a scoreless stalemate for 90 minutes. But only 26 seconds into overtime, Ali, with some help from senior backfielder Kenie Wright and alumna Colby Ciarrocca, tucked it into the far post for one of the biggest wins of that year.
4. Rutgers @ Penn State, Oct. 30, 2016: Knights avenge postseason defeats in quarterfinal round of Big Ten tournament
In 2015, Rutgers' magical postseason push came to an end by none other than its bitter rival, the Nittany Lions. It would reach the Big Ten championship as well as the NCAA tournament Final Four for the first time in program history, but both occasions resulted in 2-0 losses to Penn State within a month of each other.
The Knights would get a measure of revenge in the following season’s Big Ten tournament, when it went on the road to defeat the defending champs by a fitting score of 2-0.
3. Rutgers @ Maryland, Sept. 18, 2015: O’Neill gets the Knights off to their best start in program history
If O’Neill’s tenure isn’t remembered for anything else, it will be revered for the 2015 season. Rutgers that year dominated its way through its first eight games, culminating in a 1-0 victory at College Park. A goal by alumna Samantha Valliant is all the offense it needed for a team that had not allowed a single goal throughout the 2015 season to that point.
The shutout over the Terrapins marked 720 straight scoreless minutes, which was the longest active streak in the country that year. When all was said and done, the Knights were 1 of only 3 unbeaten teams in the country after that game, but would suffer their first loss six days later to Illinois. The great start would be just the beginning of a historic season.
2. Michigan State @ Rutgers, Sept. 19, 2014: Valliant’s effort clinches first Big Ten win in school history
O'Neill's inaugural season as head coach also marked Rutgers' first season as a member of the Big Ten and it got off to an all but perfect start. The team won its first six games to begin O’Neill’s tenure before dropping the program’s first Big Ten match against Maryland. One week later against Michigan State it would be an unsuspecting hero that gave O'Neill and the Knights a historic win in the final minute of regulation.
Valliant did not log a single goal during her Rutgers career to that point. She did not see any game action her freshman year and lost her sophomore season to injury, but under the lights of Yurcak Field that night, she would get her moment. With less than a minute left in a scoreless stalemate, Valliant got a free kick opportunity and banked it in the back of the net for her 1st career goal, and it could not have come at a better time.
1. Rutgers @ Virginia, Nov. 27, 2015: O’Neill’s Knights reach the Final Four in epic shootout
The Knights' historic 2015 season came to a head in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament. Against the No. 1 ranked team in the country, Rutgers went on the road for a chance at history. One-hundred-ten minutes and 19 penalty kicks later, it would have the privilege of walking off Scott Stadium with the history it sought after — one of the greatest defensive performances in the history of women’s college soccer.
The Cavaliers, who scored the second most goals of any team in the country that year, could not find the back of the net a single time against the Knights' defense headlined by the likes of backlining alumnae Erica Skroski, Brianne Reed and goalkeeper Casey Murphy. But, Rutgers had a hard time finding the back of the net as well and this game was destined not just for overtime, but a series of game deciding penalty kicks.
After missing their first two penalty kicks, the Knights came back to make seven in a row and push the PK period to sudden death. It took a lucky guess by Murphy, who dove right to block Virginia’s seventh penalty kick, and a chance by alumna Tori Prager to put the game away with a winning score and a trip to the Final Four.
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