Rutgers travels to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan
The Rutgers women’s soccer team faces its first Big Ten road trip of the season, visiting both Michigan and Michigan State this weekend.
The Scarlet Knights (7-1-2, 2-0-1) are currently ranked 19th nationally by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, but are confronting a true challenge in the Great Lake State.
Thursday evening, they play a Michigan side that has gotten off to an extremely impressive start.
Michigan heads into Thursday’s match tied for third in the Big Ten with a 7-1-1 overall record and a 3-0 mark in conference play.
Despite not ranking in the top 25 by the NSCAA, the Wolverines are rated at No. 17 in the country by Soccer America and No. 22 by TopDrawerSoccer.com.
In its last two contests, Michigan defeated Nebraska and Michigan State 2-1 and 1-0 respectively.
Pacing the offense is redshirt junior Ani Sarkisian, who leads the Wolverines in scoring with 5 goals, including the game-winner against Michigan State.
In addition, Michigan has displayed excellent defense winning five consecutive matches and allowing only 1 goal in that span.
The leader of the defensive front is goalkeeper Sarah Jackson, who has a save percentage of .897 and only allows an average of 0.43 goals per game.
“Michigan will definitely be a tough one as they have one of the best defenses in the country,” said freshman defender Chantelle Swaby. “However, if we play our best, there’s no reason we shouldn’t win.”
That kind of confidence supplemented by a commitment to concentrating on just the next game is what makes Rutgers so great this season.
Rutgers has shut out five-straight opponents and seven teams overall in 2016.
The Knights just wrapped up their six-match September home stand with a draw against Illinois Sunday, which added to the four wins and one loss they accumulated during the stretch.
Now as the team travels a great distance in the upcoming weekend, it will meet new obstacles that it hasn’t encountered thus far.
“We are treating it like a business trip and we expect to come back with two wins and 6 points,” said sophomore defender Kenie Wright.
Eating healthily, taking ice baths and stretching more than usual are a few of the ways Rutgers will try to combat the issues of the road.
Limited practice time and an adjusted sleep schedule are just a few of the inconveniences that the Knights will have to overcome in order to find the success they’re looking for in Michigan.
Head coach Mike O’Neill and the rest of the coaching staff have acquired a ton of experience over the years and have prepared the squad for what’s to come.
“We’re going to do pool workouts to stay in shape and not put too much wear and tear on our bodies,” Swaby said. “Coach has a recovery plan set, and we’re completely locked in on it.”
While O’Neill is comfortable with the players’ mindsets heading into the weekend, he has other concerns, most notably their lack of finishing quality opportunities.
Rutgers has notched at least eight shots on goal in seven of 10 contests and leads the Big Ten in shots on goal with 85 on the year, but the Knights have only scored more than 2 goals in a game twice all season with both occurring against nonconference opponents.
“We need to be more efficient with our chances on net,” O’Neill said. “To beat Big Ten teams, we need to harness our aggressiveness and convert it into more goals.”
While Rutgers may find it a difficult task to score versus the tough Michigan back line, it should prove remarkably easier against the Spartans on Sunday at 1 p.m.
The Knights are 3-0 all-time against Michigan State, winning by a score of 1-0 in each of the past two seasons.
Picked to finish 10th in the Big Ten Preseason Coaches’ Poll, Michigan State has equaled those expectations thus far this year compiling four wins compared to five losses and one draw.
The Green and White are 1-2 against conference opponents and have demonstrated a lack of variety in their attack.
The Spartans have gotten most of their limited production from junior midfielder Marisa Oleksiak, who leads the team with 4 goals, half of Michigan State’s total on the year.
Meanwhile for Rutgers, senior Madison Tiernan is tied for the lead in points with 11 pacing the offense with 4 goals.
Two of Tiernan’s goals were game-winners and she is looking to add a few more this weekend in the Midwest.
“I know I can score goals and lead us to victory,“ Tiernan said. “I’m willing to do anything to help the team pick up 6 points in Michigan.
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