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Rutgers gets set for College Cup semifinal match

<p>Senior defender Erica Skroski and the Rutgers backline look to remain resilient when the Knights take on Penn State for the third time this season. The match kicks off tonight at 5 p.m. in Cary, North Carolina.</p>

Senior defender Erica Skroski and the Rutgers backline look to remain resilient when the Knights take on Penn State for the third time this season. The match kicks off tonight at 5 p.m. in Cary, North Carolina.

It’s funny how things can turn out in sports.

After already playing against each other twice this season, the No. 9 Rutgers women’s soccer team will meet No. 6 Penn State in the semifinals of the College Cup on Friday in Cary, North Carolina.

The Scarlet Knights (19-3-3, 7-2-2) beat the Nittany Lions (20-3-2, 8-2-1) at home at Yurcak Field on Oct. 18 by a score of 1-0.

The two teams then met in the Big Ten Championship game at Penn State’s Jeffrey Field, where the Nittany Lions controlled the game and won, 2-0.

The rubber match holds the highest stakes of the three matches, as it will determine who gets to play either No. 2 Florida State or No. 20 Duke in the National Championship game.

“We’re excited for the opportunity to be in the College Cup,” said head coach Mike O’Neill. “All year long, we have talked about the next game being the most important game. We’ve played Penn State twice this year. We have won once and they have won once. The focus here is on winning the next match and getting into the final.”

The Knights enter the Final Four coming off their biggest win of the season, a 7-6 penalty shootout victory over No. 1 Virginia in the quarterfinals.

Rutgers was not intimidated by the stage or the opponent, which it credits to playing in the tough Big Ten Conference throughout the season.

It prepared the team to play with confidence against the top-ranked Cavaliers that led it to victory, and the Knights now look forward to getting another crack against Penn State.

“The fact that it is Penn State speaks volumes of how hard our conference is,” O’Neill said. “It’s exciting to have two Big Ten teams in the Final Four and we are just looking forward to the opportunity and are excited to play Penn State again.”

When the Knights fell to the Nittany Lions in the Big Ten Tournament title game, they gave up an early goal in the ninth minute and could never get on track after that.

It was the first and only time that Rutgers trailed going into halftime.

Since that matchup, it has not lost a game.

It feels like Rutgers is ready for another shot against Penn State, and it starts with the strong play of the midfield and backline.

“We just have to keep doing exactly what we’ve been doing, which is playing together for the whole game,” said senior defender Brianne Reed. “We know that Penn State is a very good team, but we’re not going to change anything we’ve done because it’s been working for us all year. We’ll focus on what we have to do and try to get that win.”

That focus paid off for the Knights during their grueling win over Virginia, and they will need it to beat Penn State.

The star of that match was sophomore Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year Casey Murphy, who recorded her 19th shutout of the season and scored the team’s first goal in penalty kicks.

As a No. 2 seed, Rutgers enters this game as an underdog against the No. 1 seeded Nittany Lions, much like they were against the top overall seed in Virginia.

But the Knights will not let the moment or opponent get into their heads as they play in the highest stake game in program history, ultimately looking to reach the National Championship game for the first time.

“At this point, the team knows that we can beat anyone if we give it our all and work hard and stay focused,” Murphy said. “No matter who we play, we are going to do anything we can to prepare ourselves to be successful.”

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

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