Rutgers bounces back from loss with two clean sheet wins
On the eve of Rutgers’ first home football game, all eyes were on Yurcak Field as the Rutgers women’s soccer team took on Cornell Friday night.
After a defeat at the hands of Georgetown that broke the Scarlet Knights’ streak of 18 straight home matches without a loss, it was of paramount importance for the squad to earn a win.
Although the final score was 2-0 in Rutgers’ favor, at halftime, it didn’t look like it would go that way.
"We talk so much about confidence and playing with purpose," said head coach Mike O'Neill. “In the first half, we did some of that, but not consistently, and then at halftime we spoke about it.”
The players responded correspondingly with a dominating second half where senior Jessica Puchalski and freshman Carina Hendley each added a goal in the 71st and 86th minute respectively.
After sophomore Kenie Wright flew a corner kick into the box, the ball skipped around in front of Cornell goalkeeper Meghan Kennedy and was deflected by several Big Red defenders before Puchalski took advantage, scoring her first goal of the young season.
Hendley’s shot was a fitting culmination of pretty playmaking from multiple Knights.
The rookie headed the ball to junior Colby Ciarrocca, who gathered and passed it back to Hendley inside the left side of the 18-yard box.
The Irvine, California, native then fired a shot to the back of the net by the right post for her first career goal.
The underrated story of the game was once again the excellent defense.
Rutgers earned its third shutout of the season, allowing only four shots against Cornell, which tied for the fewest this year.
The Knights made it four clean sheets two days later, when they defeated Drexel 5-0.
Freshman midfielder Nicole Whitley had her hands — or more appropriately, her feet — all over this one.
The Freehold, New Jersey, resident notched three assists to move her total to six on the season, which leads the squad.
She set up Hendley on the first one less than 10 minutes into the match on a beautiful combination of moves to drive up the field.
15 minutes later, Whitley found leading goal scorer senior captain Madison Tiernan on the left side of the box for an easy finish down the middle.
It was Tiernan’s fourth score of the season, and with a later assist to Ciarrocca, she is now only 7 points away from tenth on the all-time scoring list.
Tiernan actually combined with Whitley for the assist, which came in the 48th minute and gave Whitley her third of the day.
Whitley broke through two defenders and played on to Tiernan, who deflected it to Ciarrocca for a simple finish.
Even with all the on field success, Whitley remained humble and complemented her teammates post game.
“Before the game, we talked about tactics and getting a good shutout win,” Whitley said. “We wanted to have fun out there and obviously we did that.”
Included in the fun was an unassisted goal from forward Jenna Seddon in the 77th minute for her first goal of the season, and just her second in her four-year career.
Senior forward Erica Murphy scored her first goal as well after recently transferring from Monmouth.
Expected to be an impact player on this young Rutgers roster, Murphy was extremely excited to get the monkey off her back and enter the scorer’s table.
“Obviously, it’s great as a striker to be able to finally add to the team,” Murphy said. “I’ve had my ups and downs thus far and it’s been frustrating, but I can now just play my game.”
Murphy and the Knights looked like a complete team versus Drexel, with 25 of the 27 players getting minutes on the pitch.
Coach O’Neill had his team focus on getting better every day and making sure the team’s confidence continues to grow.
“This weekend, it was vital for the team to execute the game plan, but more importantly to believe,” O’Neill said. “We’re 27 strong and that depth really showed today.”
Both matches were true team efforts with the squad coming out guns blazing with something to prove.
“After that hiccup against Georgetown we needed to have a statement weekend,” Whitley said. “We don’t want to lose at home ever again.”
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