No. 21 Rutgers falls to Minnesota in Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals
For the second consecutive year the Rutgers women’s soccer team will make an early exit in the Big Ten Tournament.
With home field advantage and the highest seed that the program has ever achieved in the conference, one goal in the final 4 minutes sunk the No. 21 Scarlet Knights' (11-3-5, 7-1-3) tournament campaign as the Golden Gophers (10-8-1, 5-5-1) won 1-0, in the Big Ten Tournament's quarterfinal round on Sunday.
“Obviously we’re disappointed, we wanted to come out with a win and I know that this team’s goal was to compete for a Big Ten championship, so we’re never gonna be happy when we’re not winning but I think in the end of the day we need to also watch film and see how we can learn from this," said assistant coach Meghan Ryan.
In a rematch of the 2016 Big Ten Tournament championship game, head coach Mike O’Neill and the upperclassmen that were members of that team had a chance to avenge their championship defeat with a first round victory over Minnesota.
Unfortunately for Rutgers, the uncertainty of the Big Ten flashed its ugly head as the seventh seeded Golden Gophers just barely edged out the second seeded Knights in a weekend littered with upsets.
Minnesota senior and Big Ten forward of the year April Bockin scored her 11th goal of the season when she took a pass from midfielder Emily Heslin and dribbled it past freshman goalkeeper Meagan McClelland for the only goal of the game.
Rutgers' top scorer sophomore forward Amirah Ali, who was tied with Bockin for the conference lead in goals going into this game, saw fewer minutes than usual after a tackle in the first half sent her to the sidelines.
Ali returned in the second half for the Knights but was held scoreless for the third straight game.
“Amirah has played a lot of minutes, so sometimes we need to make sure that we can give her a breather as well but she’s in total control with that," O'Neill said. "I think she got hit with a good tackle and just needed a couple minutes so we gave her a couple minutes because we know the importance of having her on the field in the second half.”
McClelland fell just short of a postseason shutout but did tally four saves in the loss, the same as the Gophers' goalkeeper Maddie Nielsen who did just enough to keep Rutgers' offense off the board.
The loss marked the sixth time in the past seven games that the Knights' offense was shutout in regulation, and the first time all year they were shutout at home.
“I thought (the Wisconsin defense) did a good job, we got in behind them like four or five times we just gotta make sure we capitalize on that,” O’Neill said.
Rutgers was 1 of 3 other top four seeds to be upset at home this weekend. The quarterfinal round saw fifth seeded Illinois defeat fourth seeded Wisconsin and sixth seeded Nebraska defeat third seeded Ohio State.
Penn State was the only higher seed to win at home this weekend and move onto the semifinals.
The Knights, meanwhile, will get some time off to recover from a lengthy season that saw a program-record 11 games go into overtime. While the program’s aspirations for its first Big Ten championship will have to be put on hold until next year, the NCAA Tournament still looms.
Rutgers has qualified for the NCAA Tournament every year under O’Neill’s tenure. Aspirations for qualifying in that tournament will take top priority in the coming weeks.
Three seniors currently on the team were part of the 2015 team that made it to the College Cup after defeating a Virginia team that was ranked No. 1 in the nation. Those seniors will look to go on one more run through the tournament before graduating.
“It has been a good season, and a very long one with all these overtimes. So now as a coaching staff we’re gonna figure out a way to give them a few days off. We’ll continue to play and get ready for the selection show and hopefully we’re dancing,” O’Neill said.
O’Neill and his team will find out their fate for the upcoming NCAA Tournament when the brackets are announced on the Nov. 5 selection show.
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