Sophomore's goal propels Rutgers in bounce-back weekend
After a disappointing first impression in its new conference following a 2-0 loss on the road at Maryland, a sour taste lingered in the mouth of the Rutgers women’s soccer team.
For a long seven days, the Scarlet Knights got back to the basics as they prepared for what turned out to be the biggest weekend of the year in their first two Big Ten home games against Michigan State and Michigan.
Evidently, head coach Mike O’Neill’s emphasis on breaking down film study and making the necessary fundamental adjustments in practice paid off.
After junior midfielder Samantha Valliant’s crunch time heroics in the 89th minute on a beautifully placed free kick from the left side found the upper right corner of the net passed the outstretched arms of Michigan State goalkeeper Courtney Clem last Friday night, Rutgers set out to cap the weekend on a positive note Sunday against Michigan.
Just like Friday’s game against Michigan State (6-3, 0-3), one goal was all the team needed.
Sophomore forward Jessica Puchalski’s goal in the 64th minute proved to be the difference-maker in the contest, as the Knights downed the Wolverines, 1-0, at Yurcak Field.
For Rutgers (6-1, 2-1), following up the first loss of the season a week ago with two quality wins over two quality Big Ten opponents added to the sweetness of redemption.
“It was important for us to bounce back and play well this weekend. And it was important for us to get the results because we’ve been working hard from day one,” O’Neill said. “I think to bring Michigan and Michigan State to Rutgers in our first Big Ten weekend and come out with two wins was very important to the girls, very important to the staff and very important to the University.”
Michigan (7-3, 3-1), which came into the weekend surging with a five-game winning streak following a 2-1 win at Maryland last Friday, dropped its first conference game of the season.
After a scoreless first half, the Knights came out of the locker room firing on offense. Senior forward Amy Pietrangelo let a few shots fly early on, clanking a shot off the crossbar in the 48th minute and sailing a few more just high over the net.
But senior forward Stef Scholz and her aggressive, smooth ball-handling set up an opportunity for Rutgers to capitalize on moments later in the 64th minute.
Scholz received the ball from sophomore midfielder Madison Tiernan on the right side of the box and turned sharply on the corner to beat a Michigan defender. The second she realized she had the corner, she fired a cross into the box where she found Puchalski.
“That’s what Stef usually does,” Puchalski said. “She’ll dribble it down and cross it in, and I kind of saw that I needed to go like more front post there, so I tried to make my run there, and it worked out.”
In traffic, Puchalski caught the cross from Scholz and banked it in past Michigan goalkeeper Megan Hinz for her second goal of the season. Scholz was credited with the assist.
Unlike last week’s game against Maryland where O’Neill said time of possession hindered the Knights, they seized the momentum and made the Wolverines play to their control.
With the game being televised nationally on Big Ten Network, Scholz and Rutgers capped a bounce back weekend, showing the conference what they can do when on top of their game.
“It was a great weekend for us,” Scholz said. “Coming off a loss to Maryland, we stepped it up. … We got the six points [in the Big Ten standings] we needed, so we’re sitting really well, and we played a great game against a great Michigan team.”
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