Rutgers remains undefeated with win over UConn
Head coach Mike O’Neill and the Rutgers women's soccer team took its undefeated record up North this past Thursday to take on UConn in the team’s first road trip of 2018.
The Scarlet Knights' (4-0-1) winning ways continued away from home with a 3-0 shutout victory over the now 1-4 Huskies. With the UConn game checked off the list, Rutgers now only has two more out-of-conference games before its stretch of 11 straight against Big Ten opponents begins.
“Do I think that this level of competition is preparing us for Big Ten play? I really do, because we need to figure out what we're good at and that's what we're learning,” O’Neill said. “There’s no easy games in college soccer anymore, every game is a battle and that’s what is helping us prepare for the Big Ten.”
Junior midfielder Nicole Whitley opened the floodgates for the Knights with a goal early in the first half, and added an assist on a goal by junior forward Tiernny Wiltshire only minutes later.
Freshman forward Ashley Atubi got Rutgers 1 more just before halftime with the first goal of her collegiate career.
Atubi was not the only freshman to come up big in this one, as goalkeeper Meagan McClelland maintained yet another shutout, her third in just five starts this year. McClelland also tacked on two saves against the Huskies to bring her season total to 11.
“She steps into that role with confidence and that has helped her a lot. She never really was nervous she just took control,” said junior midfielder and captain Taylor Aylmer. “It's her goal, she runs the backline as if she’s been here for multiple years.”
With the win, Rutgers moves to 4-0-1 on the season as it has now handled all but one of its out-of-conference opponents in the first quarter of the season.
A double overtime tie against then undefeated Saint Joseph’s back on Aug. 23 is the only mark on an otherwise perfect record in the early going.
“Saint Joe's gave us a little bit more than we expected in the beginning. They came out with a little more energy and they put up a good battle,” said senior back fielder Madison Pogarch. “There were times when they wanted it a little bit more than we did, and I think if we came out and matched their energy the result of that game would have been very different.”
O’Neill has had the benefit of leaning on a number of young players to fill key positions while his team has not been whole yet this season.
Junior back fielder Chantelle Swaby has been overseas playing for the Jamaican national team, and a number of other players including Whitley and senior back fielder Kenie Wright have been limited to injury.
“Others have to step up, and that’s exactly what they’ve done. That’s one of the things that as a coaching staff we have been very proud of,” O’Neill said. “We need to continuously build that depth, but within that depth having confidence in all that we do is so important.”
A number of young players have filled in to give O’Neill that confidence in his depth. McClelland and back fielder Shea Holland, who have filled in for the absent Swaby, have been two cornerstone pieces on a defense that has limited opponents to only 2 goals across these first five games.
The two were actually teammates on the US U-17 national team back in high school.
“(Holland) sees the game very well. She is very disciplined in all that she does operating with the three other backs, very good organizer, very good communicator and a very good 1v1 defender,” O’Neill said. “It's not an easy adjustment jumping into such an important position as a freshman … I think Shea is the type of player that makes that adjustment very well and very quickly,”
The team’s countdown to Big Ten play comes back home as it will host Monmouth this upcoming Friday and La Salle on Sunday. After that, it will kick off the "Big" part of its schedule against Nebraska on Sept. 14.
O’Neill has no interest in overlooking the next two games as he believes there is still work to do before its ready to take on Big Ten opponents.
“The most important game is the next game. What we try to do is always try to make it about us and our habits,” O’Neill said.
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