Rutgers closes Big Ten gap after matches against Wisconsin, Minnesota
The Rutgers women's soccer team returns home with four more points in the standings after completing its furthest road trip of the season this past weekend.
With a tie against Wisconsin Friday night and another overtime win in Minnesota on Sunday, the Scarlet Knights (7-1-4, 3-0-2) created some distance between them and their conference foes, as they continue to chase Nebraska for first place in the conference.
The two games over the weekend extended the team's streak of overtime games to six straight, the longest streak of head coach Mike O'Neill's tenure. The streak dates back to the tie against La Salle on Sept. 9, with every Big Ten matchup Rutgers has played this season needing extra minutes.
"We’re going into overtime and we’re still getting results. We were kidding around that we just really enjoy each other's company and we just really like to play together, so that prepares us for the overtime, but we would like to get it done in 90 minutes," O’Neill said.
The weekend set was subject to some early turbulence as weather delayed the team's flight to Wisconsin to the following day, forcing a game that was initially scheduled for Thursday night to be played on Friday.
This forced the Knights to play two games in two different states over a span of three days.
Rutgers played to its first scoreless tie of the season against the Badgers on a day where the two teams combined for 24 total fouls. It was the first time the Knights have been shutout all year, while coinciding with the defense’s and freshman goalkeeper Meagan McClelland’s fourth shutout of the season — her first against a Big Ten opponent.
Junior midfielder Nicole Whitley came the closest to getting Rutgers on the board with two shots on goal, but both of them were saved by Wisconsin goalkeeper Jordyn Bloom.
The Knights found themselves in familiar territory two days later in Minnesota with a 1-1 tie going into the final 5 minutes of the second overtime period, before senior midfielder Adora Moneme hit the golden goal for another walk-off win.
“As a team we really dominated and I feel like the goal was the culmination of how we played,” Moneme said. “I tried to go out wide and (sophomore forward) Amirah (Ali) flipped it to me and I saw that the goalie was offline and I tried to just get it in the net.”
Rutgers was on the brink of not even reaching overtime several times in this game. The Gophers had six total shots on goal, but their only score of the day came on a corner kick by Emily Heslin.
Two days after posting her fourth shutout, McClelland tallied a career-high five saves against Minnesota, and kept the Gophers out of the back of the net on seven other corner kick opportunities, all on the first real road trip of her career.
“They did put a lot of pressure on us, but I do have to give credit to my team, as much as they were pushing on our half of the field, they really did a good job stepping up and I didn’t really have to do much so that’s a huge credit to the team,” McClelland said.
It wouldn’t have been another Knights win without some offense by Ali as well.
Ali opened the scoring in the game against Minnesota on a penalty kick opportunity that she put into the top right post to get her 8th goal of the season.
“I think she’s one of the best players in the country. I really believe that,” O’Neill said. “She understands her value, recognizes the importance and the role she plays for her team and she’s accepted it and she just goes and plays, that’s what she does.”
Ali’s value has been evident since Big Ten play has started. She has scored in every Big Ten win Rutgers has gotten thus far including her two game-winners in back-to-back games last week, and even contributed an assist for Moneme’s golden goal in Sunday’s win.
O’Neill and his team are back home this week as they will return to practice on Tuesday in preparation to host Northwestern.
“With (Moneme) being a senior and her having all that experience, playing alongside her really helps me and she just pushes me to do better,” Ali said.
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