September 19, 2019 | 69° F

Overcoming top attack in country en route to College Cup highlights historic season for Rutgers

Photo by Edwin Gano |

A strong defensive display by sophomore goalkeeper Casey Murphy and the Rutgers backline helped the Knights overcome the top offense in the nation in No. 1 Virginia in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament en route to making the first College Cup appearance in program history.

The Rutgers women’s soccer team had the opportunity to make their dream season even more magical by advancing to the College Cup for the first time in program history, but to be able to leave such an emphatic mark in the history book, it had a tall task in their way. The Scarlet Knights would have to take down the top team that knocked them out of the tournament the previous two seasons on the road to advance to the semifinals for the first time.

No. 1 Virginia entered the NCAA Tournament quarterfinal match on Nov. 27 with one of the top offensive attacks in the country and just one blemish on their resume. But the Knights and their suffocating defense were on a roll, winning nine of their ten previous matches and outscoring their opponents 21-4 over that span.

Rutgers completely shut down the Cavaliers' high-powered offense, allowing just one shot on goal in regulation time. Virginia applied pressure in the final third, with eight corner kicks and nine total shots, but the Knights’ defense rose to the occasion and stood firm. 

The Cavs defense made up for their lagging offense, only giving Rutgers three scoring chances that it was unable to capitalize on. Through the 90 minutes of regulation time, both teams had played to a draw and extra time would be required to determine who was going to move on to the Final Four.

Moving to extra time wasn’t enough to change the style of the game with shutdown defense defining the first, and subsequent second, overtime periods. Each time had just one shot on goal in the 20 minutes of extra time, both of which were saved by the respective goalies.

With 110 minutes in books and the score still locked at 0-0, the quarterfinal match moved to a penalty shootout where a winner would finally be declared. After saving the only two shots she faced during the game, sophomore goalie Casey Murphy allowed the first two penalty shots to get by her, putting the Knights in a 2-0 hole.

With their season hanging by a thread, Murphy switched roles and buried her shot to put Rutgers on the board. Following Murphy’s goal, the Knights found the back of the net on their next five shots drawing the score even at 6-6 entering the ninth round.

Junior midfielder Tori Prager continued Rutgers’ score-streak by sneaking the seventh consecutive goal past Virginia goalie Jessie Ferrari. On the subsequent Virginia try, Murphy made a diving stop to her right to end the shootout and send the Knights to the Final Four for the first time in program history.

Rutgers would go on to lose to Big Ten foe Penn State in the semifinals by a 2-0 score, but that did not diminish what the Knights were able to accomplish in 2015. Rutgers set a record for wins and shutouts, finishing with 19 in both categories.

The Knights began the season with an eight-game winning streak where they set a program record in consecutive minutes without conceding a goal (770:16) as Murphy kept eight straight shutouts.

In the next two games, Rutgers conceded three goals, losing both games after suffering the first goal. This brought questions on whether the Knights' attack could respond when their stout defense makes an uncharacteristic error.

But those doubts were diminished as they overcame the two goal deficit in the penalty shootout against the Cavaliers to book the first trip to Cary, North Carolina, in program history.

Eric Mullin

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