Rutgers puts latest loss behind, moves on to NCAA Tournament
A loss in such a high magnitude game like the Big Ten Championship game could have potentially damaging effects for a team, but the No. 7 Rutgers women’s soccer team plans to put the loss behind them as quickly as possible.
After all, the game represented its one truly flat performance of the season — a year in which it has already broken many school records.
Going into the championship game, the Scarlet Knights were riding their longest unbeaten streak in school history at 10 games, having gone 8-0-2 during the stretch.
Their 16 wins are tied with the 2006 team for the most in school history, and they can break the record with an NCAA Tournament victory on Friday. Rutgers earned a No. 2 seed and plays No. 15 seed Fairleigh Dickinson on its home turf at Yurcak Field in the first round on Friday night at 7 p.m.
Though Sunday’s loss was a tough one for the Knights, they know they have to move past it quickly and are looking at their season as a whole to build some confidence entering the NCAA Tournament.
“The players always want more and to do better, which is all we can really ask for as coaches,” said head coach Mike O’Neill. “Since day one, we’ve asked them to try to get better every day, and they have really enjoyed the process. The team’s commitment to one another is the reason we have won so many games.”
It is that mindset that will have to prevail again for the Knights to return to their winning ways, but there is some precedent for it this season.
The Knights went on their 10-match unbeaten streak after losing their only two games at the time to Illinois and Northwestern.
It was a quick bounce back for a team that is not accustomed to losing, and they realize they will need a similar reboot to get back into gear for the rest of the postseason.
“It’s pretty special to watch this whole group because of how hard they work and how skilled they are,” O’Neill said. “I know I speak for all of the coaches when I say how lucky we are to be a part of that, and this group also knows how to have fun. The work ethic and the commitment to getting better how been the mentality since the preseason.”
Sophomore goalkeeper Casey Murphy has set the single-season record for shutouts this season with 15 on the year.
As a team, the Knights are one shutout away from tying the 2006 team’s record of 16 clean sheets in a season.
One player who has played a pivotal role in helping the Knights accumulate all their shutouts is junior defender Erin Smith.
She is one of the fastest players on the team and her versatility in stretching the field is a key factor in their potency of the offense and defense.
Bouncing back quickly after the championship game is critical, but Smith has seen enough from her team this season that leads her to believe they should be fine.
“We just really have to keep working hard and work as a team, because we know that no one can do it single-handedly,” she said. “We always try to stay confident.”
The Knights’ appearance in the Big Ten Championship also made them the first team in any sport at Rutgers to reach the conference final in the Big Ten.
Despite the latest loss, it is still an exciting time around the program, and the Knights are looking forward to the chance to possibly break the wins and shutout record in the NCAA Tournament.
Junior midfielder Jennifer Andresen scored her first goal of the season in the 2-0 victory over Ohio State in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament.
She has done plenty of work this season that has not shown up in the stat sheets, like slide tackling to steal the ball and send through balls to forwards for scoring chances.
It has been a whirlwind year for her and the team, and she credits some of their record-breaking to the closeness of all the units.
“We’ve really been focusing on game to game and keeping our eyes on the next game, and that has helped us come a long away,” Andresen said. “Our team chemistry is amazing and we all know we need to work together to have success, and that is shown through some of our accomplishments this year.”
For updates on the Rutgers women’s soccer team, follow @Mike_OSully2 and @TargumSports on Twitter.
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