Defense propels Rutgers with AAC play looming
Entering conference play, the Rutgers women’s soccer team is coming together at the right time.
The Scarlet Knights (7-1-1) have won three straight matches as they prepare for their only AAC season.
The team has outscored its opponents, 11-2, during the streak and has controlled much of the play during those three matches.
Junior forward Stefanie Scholz has found her game over the last three matches, in which she has scored all six of her team-leading goals this season.
“It’s a good confidence boost for us going into conference play with some wins under our belt,” Scholz said. “We just now need to focus on bettering ourselves throughout the week.”
The AAC honored Scholz for her last weekend’s performance by naming her Wednesday to the Weekly Honor Roll.
Scholz is the fifth Knight to receive those honors this week, making it two straight weeks the AAC recognized her. She earned Offensive Player of the Week last week.
Even though Rutgers has consistently scored lately, the defense has arguably been a bigger strength.
During the current win streak, Rutgers has held its opponents to less than 10 shots twice.
Additionally, no team has outshot the Knights during the last three matches. Rutgers has outshot its opponents, 67-26.
“It shows how hard we have worked this season now that we are going into conference play strong,” said sophomore defender Brianne Reed.
Rutgers has played aggressively, looking to score at any time. The defense has been key to the team’s success, as the Knights have been able to consistently regain possession throughout most their matches.
It was especially the case in Rutgers’ most recent victory this Friday against Villanova.
The Knights’ defense, which had only allowed one shot in the second half, fueled a late second-half rally. It fed the ball to an offense that had gotten shots all night but not yet converted.
Rutgers scored two goals in the last 20 minutes — including Scholz’s game-winner in the final minute — to complete the comeback against Villanova.
Along with the winning streak, the Knights enter AAC play with conference’s best record.
All of these factors play into the team’s goal of reaching the NCAA Tournament for the seventh time under head coach Glenn Crooks.
The team, meanwhile, will need to continue to improve and get healthy.
Freshman defender Erin Smith and senior forward Jonelle Filigno both sustained injuries against Villanova.
Filigno returned to the game, but Smith missed the rest of the contest. There has been no update on her status.
With a week between games, there is time for the team to get back to full strength. Rutgers is staying aware of the opportunity ahead of itself entering conference play.
“With this being our only year in this conference, we see a perfect opportunity for us to set ourselves up for the NCAAs later this season,” Reed said.
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