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No. 9 Rutgers opens NCAA Tournament at home against Fairleigh Dickinson

<p>Sophomore goalkeeper Casey Murphy and the Knights look to take it one game at a time as they begin their NCAA Tournament journey.</p>

Sophomore goalkeeper Casey Murphy and the Knights look to take it one game at a time as they begin their NCAA Tournament journey.

Looking to put the loss to Penn State in the Big Ten Championship game behind it quickly, the No. 9 Rutgers women’s soccer team is set to host Fairleigh Dickinson on Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Scarlet Knights (16-3-2, 7-2-2) enter the tournament as a No. 2 seed, the highest in program history.

Their strong play throughout the year led the NCAA committee to tab them with the honor of the high seed. With home field advantage coming into play, the Knights like their chances.

“In the NCAA Tournament, every team you play is going to be a quality team,” said head coach Mike O’Neill. “It’s a local game, so there is some extra hype and Fairleigh Dickinson is a very good team that is well-coached and has a good attack. We have been watching tape over the last few days to prepare for the match, and the most important thing is to do the things that we do well.”

It is a welcomed return home to Yurcak Field for the Knights, where they were unbeaten this season.

They posted a 10-0-1 mark at home, making them only the third team in school history to not lose a home game during the regular season.

As Rutgers hopes to get back to its winning formula of strong defense and timely offense, it knows the importance of moving past the championship loss and keeping the focus on the next game. 

It is a recipe for the success that has been obvious all season long.

“We know we didn’t play our best against Penn State, but we took some time to think about it and see what we could do better and learn from to make a good run in this tournament,” O’Neill said. “We focused on leaving that game behind us and looking forward to the next game, which is always the most important one … The players were disappointed because they wanted more, but we are also proud of what we have accomplished and are looking to get back on the field on Friday.”

Friday marks the 10th NCAA Tournament appearance for the Knights. They are 7-7-4 all-time in NCAA Tournament play, including a 2-0 home victory over La Salle in the first round of last year’s tournament.

Many of the players on this year’s team got a taste of the tournament last season, and are hoping to make it further this season.

“We’ve talked since the preseason about making it far in the postseason,” said junior midfielder Jennifer Andresen. “We were happy to get to the Big Ten Championship and now we have more goals we hope to accomplish by seeing how we can play in the NCAA Tournament.”

Rutgers is not a stranger to big games.

It has played four games against ranked opponents, posting a 3-1 record in those games.

Sophomore goalkeeper Casey Murphy has been a big reason for the team’s success in these games, as she has allowed only one goal in the three victories.

She is looking forward to her second year playing in the NCAA Tournament and believes the team will take the same approach that make them so successful during the regular season.

“Every game is really important to us and we know that the next game is always the most critical one because if we don’t play well, we won’t be able to advance,” Murphy said. “So our mentality is to focus on each game by itself and it has really worked for us motivates us to survive and advance in the tournament.”

For updates on the Rutgers women’s soccer team, follow @Mike_OSully2 and @TargumSports on Twitter.

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