Rutgers keeps composure in postseason play
The collegiate soccer season is a grind.
Training begins early in the year well before games approach, with technique and conditioning at the forefront of the first few weeks.
Preseason and exhibition games come next before the regular season heads underway and then the hard work can come to fruition by qualifying for the postseason.
The No. 9 Rutgers women’s soccer team has gone through a rigorous training schedule and Big Ten slate throughout the season. With the Scarlet Knights' best performances of the year at the right time, that hard work is starting to pay off.
After navigating through the regular season with a 15-2-2 record and 8-2-2 conference record, the Knights are trying to keep the same focus mentality that has allowed them to be so successful.
“When you’re driving to a stadium and it’s playoff soccer, it’s a different drive,” said head coach Mike O’Neill. “But we have put ourselves in this position because that’s the type of team that we are. We try to focus on the task at hand and are still taking it one game at a time.”
In their 4-1 victory over Minnesota in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament, Rutgers got off to a slow start.
The Knights allowed an early goal in the third minute and appeared to be on their heels, but eventually bounced back and became aggressive on offense, lashing out with four unanswered goals in the win.
The first postseason game may have produced some early jitters for Rutgers, but the strong mindset it has kept the whole year came through again when it was needed most.
“Early on (against Minnesota), it seemed like we were playing it a bit safe,” O’Neill said. “You don’t want to play it safe because if you play not to make mistakes, then you will make mistakes. But then we got into a groove and found our way, which is what has been the key for us all season long.”
The strong veteran leadership on the team makes it easier for the Knights to avoid the postseason pressure.
One such player is senior defender Erica Skroski, who scored the game-winning goal against Minnesota and was named the Big Ten Defender of the Year.
She has experienced plenty of big game experience during her time on the Banks, but knows it is important to keep calm in these moments because it can lead to better play.
“There’s definitely more on the line in the postseason and each game really matters, but we just try to stay calm and confident,” Skroski said. “We just go out there and play like we have been playing this game for so long, trying to keep our composure and it works.”
The same mindset has already been passed on to some of the newcomers in the program.
Freshman Kenie Wright was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team as a defender and is relishing her first taste of playoff soccer at Rutgers.
She acknowledges the excitement that comes with it, but also realizes that the team tries to take the same approach to these games and play with the same style it has been using during the regular season.
“There is something special about playing in the postseason,” Wright said. “We’re trying to win the Big Ten Championship and we come in with a little more energy in our step, especially in the Minnesota game because we had so many fans behind us and we really wanted the win. But we also try to keep our composure and focus on how we want to play.”
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