NJ rivals square off for postseason berth
For the five seniors on the Rutgers women’s soccer team, the culmination of a career on the Banks comes down to one game.
Win and the Scarlet Knights (8-7-2, 3-5-2) find themselves in the Big East Championships.
But lose and the Knights’ in-state rival, Seton Hall, takes their playoff spot, sending the seniors home with nothing to show for in their final game at Yurcak Field.
Head coach Glenn Crooks could not ask for a better script.
“The atmosphere has been great,” Crooks said. “Everybody knows what’s at stake and hopefully it’s a really enthusiastic, large crowd, and I think everybody is excited about it. It’s tough not to be.”
Not many could predict Seton Hall (8-7-2, 4-6-0) — a team that finished last season with only 10 points in the Big East National Division — would enter its season finale against Rutgers with something to play for.
The Pirates began conference play at 3-1 before leveling off with a two-game slide entering Piscataway for a play-in game.
But everything both squads play for during the regular season rests in the outcome of tonight’s contest, with the winner earning either a No. 5 or No. 4 seed in the Big East Championships.
The winner earns a No. 4 seed only if Villanova drops its final match to Georgetown, in which case the Knights play one final home match in the tournament.
Senior defender Julie Lancos enters the matchup fresh off a game-winning overtime goal against Cincinnati. The score preserved the Knights’ playoff chances and gave Lancos her first goal of the season, jumpstarting the team despite its recent drop-off in scoring.
The Belford, N.J., native, who transferred from Florida State after the 2008 season, remembers dropping a 1-0 decision last year to the Pirates. But the senior fell short in trying to recall playing in a regular season finale with the magnitude of tonight’s match.
“I don’t think I’ve had a game like this at all in the past two or three years,” Lancos said. “This game probably means the most because if we win, we go on, and if we lose, we don’t, so it’s going to be a big one.”
Also playing her final game in the backfield at Yurcak Field is Jasmine Edwards, who spent the past four years in Piscataway after growing up in San Diego. Despite making the long trip to the Banks to play in college, Edwards is confident she made the right choice.
“I’m very happy. I made friends on this team that I know I’ll probably have for the rest of my life,” she said.
Senior midfielder Ashley Medcalf, who Crooks recruited from Waipahu, Hawaii, offered a similar sentiment reflecting on her college decision, despite not initially knowing much about Rutgers.
Medcalf scored her first goal of the season in a 2-1 loss Oct. 2 against Syracuse. The 6-foot Medcalf was one of the most consistent midfielders over the past three seasons, Crooks said.
But this season sped by for the longtime midfielder.
“It’s sad to think about,” she said. “I just feel like time flew by.”
For two Knights seniors, the match marks the final time they can be there for their teammates.
Senior goalkeeper Casey Rupon saw time in a match last season against Providence last season. But she did not get many opportunities while All-American Goalkeeper Erin Guthrie made her name during Rupon’s first two seasons.
Junior Emmy Simpkins assumed the role the past two seasons and likely earns the nod tomorrow against the Pirates.
But for senior midfielder Karla Schacher, who tore her ACL against Loyola Marymount early in the season, earning a win is especially important.
Though her final year with the team did not go according to plan, Schacher stayed with the team and assumed more of a coaching role. With the stage set, Schacher plans to do all she can to help coach the team to one last victory in Piscataway.
“Injuries are part of the game,” Schacher said. “They suck when they happen to you but at the same time, you have to grow up as a person. I really like the aspect of being there for the team.”