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Rutgers ends weekend with Sunday draw

PISCATAWAY — The No. 25 Rutgers women’s soccer team entered this weekend knowing how pivotal a pair of conference home games were for the outlook of its season and the Scarlet Knights (9-2-1, 2-2-1) were able to pick up four points after recording a win and a draw.

After defeating Michigan State (6-2-3, 2-1-1) 1-0 Friday night, the Knights returned to the field on a cloudy Sunday afternoon at Yurcak Field and tied against Michigan, 1-1.

It was an important draw for Rutgers, especially after the Knights got off to a slow start and looked in danger of dropping the contest.

“I’m happy with the weekend,” said head coach Mike O’Neill. “We played two tough opponents and didn’t have a lot of rest, so I thought the effort our kids gave in both games was very inspiring.”

Both sides struggled to get much going offensively in the first half, as it was a turnover-filled 45 minutes of play with only the Wolverines (8-4-1, 3-1-1) getting one clean chance on goal.

There were only five shots total in the first half, with both sides engaging in a defensive battle, reminiscent of how many of Rutgers' games have started.

It was imperative for the Knights to come out with more aggressiveness and physicality in the second half to match Michigan's tough style of play.

Sophomore goalkeeper Casey Murphy stepped up to the challenge by making a critical save in the 52nd minute when the Wolverines had a three-on-one break, preventing Ani Sarkisian’s header from opening the scoring.

But Michigan was able to breakthrough in the 58th minute, when Corinne Harris was able to push one past Murphy right in front of the net. She was assisted by Taylor Timko to give the Wolverines a 1-0 lead.

After the goal, Rutgers made a concerted effort to turn up the intensity and started to get its first real drives of the day against the Michigan defense.

It paid off, as a surge led a flip throw from senior defender Brianne Reed led to a Michigan own goal in the 72nd minute, and the Knights tied up the score at 1-1.

After more back-and-forth play, the game headed to overtime for the second time for Rutgers this season.

The first 10 minutes of overtime play more evenly matched play from both sides and fatigue started to set in, with both sides deploying their benches.

In the final 10 minutes of action in the second overtime, neither side was able to push ahead with a game-winning goal, and the match ended in a 1-1 draw.

The Knights outshot Michigan, 11-10, with goalie Megan Hinz recording seven saves for the Wolverines and Murphy finishing with six for the Rutgers.

The chances became more prevalent as the game progressed, but time was working against the Knights.

“In the final third, we just have to have a bit more calmness and be a bit more aware of our surroundings as we are creating chances,” O’Neill said. “We possessed the ball well, but just have to be more efficient when creating chances and taking advantage of those chances.”

It was a chippy game, with both sides being aggressive by using many slide tackles to steal the ball and to cut off passes.

Rutgers was called for 15 fouls and the Wolverines were close behind with 14.

The physical style of play led to yelling from both sides and showings of support from veteran leaders for their teammates.

“We all have each other’s backs on the field and if one of us is getting pushed around, we’re always there to support each other,” Murphy said. “We just try to play our game when it gets physical like that and make sure that we are protecting each other.”

After dropping two Big Ten games last weekend, the Knights were pleased with this weekend’s results and the improvement they showed.

“I think what we did this weekend was a lot better than what we had been doing last week,” said senior midfielder Hayley Katkowski, who played all 110 minutes of the match and recorded one shot. “We just have to finish our opportunities and we’ll be okay.”

For updates on the Rutgers women’s soccer team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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