Rutgers advances to Elite 8 of NCAA Tournament with 4-0 win over UConn
PISCATAWAY — The No. 9 Rutgers women’s soccer team isn’t quite ready for its historic season to end just yet.
After beating Hofstra, 2-0, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday night, the Scarlet Knights returned to Yurcak Field on Sunday to face No. 18 Connecticut in the Sweet 16.
It didn’t take long for them to carry over their momentum from Friday into Sunday’s match.
The No. 2-seeded Knights (19-3-2, 7-2-2) came out with the offensive firepower they felt was missing from their first round victory over Fairleigh Dickinson and scored two first half goals in a 4-0 win over the Huskies.
Both of their wins over Hofstra and Connecticut marked the second time they have beaten each team this season.
After a rainy Thursday soaked the pitch at Yurcak Field for the weekend, the Knights were still able to gain traction and push the tempo on offense in both games.
In a record-breaking season for the Knights, they added another one to the list by becoming the first team in program history to advance to the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals with the win.
It is a major accomplishment for Rutgers, which is the first team in program history to get this far.
“I feel blessed,” said head coach Mike O’Neill. “What they’ve built here is a standard of honesty. Every day, they come out and keep each other in check and work to get better … There’s a lot of sacrifice that goes away from family time, and if I’m going to be away from my family, I want to be around people I adore.”
The Knights and Huskies (19-4, 8-1) last squared off on Sept. 13 at Yurcak Field, with the Knights prevailing in a 2-0 victory.
This game played out in similar fashion, with a feeling out process early on from both sides before Rutgers took control.
Connecticut forward Rachel Hill had the first close chance of the match in the eighth minute as she got past the Rutgers defense and fired a shot at sophomore goalkeeper Casey Murphy, who deflected the shot away.
Murphy, the Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year, finished with seven saves on the day.
Rutgers then responded with a rush of its own in the 10th minute when sophomore forward Colby Ciarrocca unleashed a shot in the box, but Connecticut defenders converged to kick the ball away.
Both teams then engaged in back-and-forth play for most of the first half, with each side trading shots and forcing turnovers.
In the 29th minute, freshman midfielder Kenie Wright had a corner kick for the Knights and found junior forward Madison Tiernan in the box, who headed the ball off a Connecticut defender and into the net to put Rutgers ahead, 1-0.
It was the second goal of the season for Tiernan, who played one of her most efficient games of the season by giving the Knights a strong performance on both sides of the ball.
“Everyone underestimates us on corners and considers it our weakness,” she said. “In tournament time, it’s a battle of ‘who wants it more,’ so it’s a battle to win the game and I saw the ball and put it in the net.”
The Knights were not done with scoring there.
In the 32nd minute, senior defender Brianne Reed utilized a flip throw from the far side that found junior midfielder Jennifer Andresen in front of the net.
Andresen then gave a quick pass to freshman midfielder Katelyn Walters on the near side, who headed the ball into the goal to give Rutgers a 2-0 lead.
The three-minute offensive spurt gave the Knights the scoring spark needed to blow the Huskies away on top of the sound defense that they usually supply.
“To get the victory and have the week of training we did, then taking the game plan and executing it, was impressive to watch,” O’Neill said. “They were really good today.”
Rutgers continued to control the possession of the ball in the second half.
A Ciarrocca shot in the 50th minute bounced off Connecticut goalkeeper Emily Armstrong right back to Ciarrocca, who then found senior forward Cassie Inacio on the far side.
Inacio blasted the ball past Armstrong to increase her team’s lead to 3-0.
Making it this far in the tournament has been of the goals the Knights have aiming for all season.
For a senior captain like Inacio, a Sweet 16 win is one of the ultimate team accomplishments she could have hoped for.
“In the beginning of the season, we set goals for ourselves and have done our best to accomplish them,” she said. “I don’t want this season to ever end. I wish it would last until December. I love my teammates, this program and this school.”
In the final minute of play, Ciarrocca found her herself on a breakaway and only had to beat Armstrong to score.
She sent a looping shot past the keeper to give Rutgers a 4-0 lead, which stood as the final score.
It culminated a day in which everything seemed to be clicking for the Knights, leaving their head coach smiling and uttering a succinct description of his team’s play.
“We’ve challenged this team to get better every day," O'Neill said. "And man, were they good today."
For updates on the Rutgers women’s soccer team, follow @Mike_OSully2 and @TargumSports on Twitter.
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