Rutgers hopes to march on in NCAA Tournament
Surviving and advancing is one of the notable mantras used to describe how teams approach tournament-style play.
The No. 9 Rutgers women’s soccer team (17-3-2, 7-2-2) pointed right to that old adage following its 1-0 victory over Fairleigh Dickinson in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last Friday.
The Scarlet Knights felt they did not play as aggressively as they wanted to, but were satisfied to leave their home fans at Yurcak Field with a tournament victory.
The team now returns home Friday night to play Hofstra in the second round of the NCAA Tournament looking to be more assertive in its offensive attack for the next game.
“Our team is good. They are very good, and that’s the mentality they need to have,” said head coach Mike O’Neill. “We’re very proud that we found a way to get it done (against Fairleigh Dickinson). Even though it wasn’t pretty, we got it done. This team is so good at talking about things and being honest about what we need to work on, which will help us moving forward.”
It will be the second time the Knights square off against the Pride this season.
The Knights prevailed when these teams matched up in the second game of the season in the Penn State Invitational, where junior Jenna Seddon scored the first goal of her career to give Rutgers a 1-0 victory.
It was the second of the school record-tying 16 shutouts for Rutgers.
The team’s suffocating defense has been led by a pair of All-Big Ten defenders in seniors Erica Skroski and Brianne Reed, along with All-Big Ten goalkeeper Casey Murphy.
Murphy has already set the single season record for a Rutgers goalkeeper with 16 and one more shutout would give the school a team record.
The lone offense in front of her in the first round win came from senior forward Rachel Cole, who scored with four seconds left in the first half to give the Knights a 1-0 lead they never looked back from.
While the win was reminiscent to how the Knights have been victorious on many occasions this season — with strong, overpowering defense and timely scoring — they still feel there is room for improvement as they navigate the tournament schedule.
“I think we’re still figuring it out and finding ways to get better,” Cole said. “I think there is a lot more still to come from us.”
Playing at home is another factor that has served the Knights well this season and gives them confidence for Friday’s match.
They are unbeaten at Yurcak Field, posting an 11-0-1 record on the Banks.
The home crowd was lively in the first round matchup, and the Knights are expecting much of the same as they get ready for round two.
“Our mentality is always that we don’t lose at home,” said junior forward Madison Tiernan. “We have to stay alive to keep playing and that’s our focus right now, paying attention to the details and working hard to prepare for Hofstra."
With the NCAA Tournament comes the obvious pressure.
Each game is a win-or-go-home situation, and for the seniors it presents the possibility of it being their last game of their collegiate careers.
Each play within itself can help lead to the glory that accompanies victory, or the agony stemming from defeat.
To counteract this pressure, the Knights have a simple plan during weekly practices for tournament games — stay loose and have fun.
“We maintain our focus by having some fun,” O’Neill said. “We just need to have some fun and not worry about anything else, so that’s how we stay relaxed during our preparation for games like these.”
For updates on the Rutgers women’s soccer team, follow @Mike_OSully2 and @TargumSports on Twitter.