Rutgers opens Big Ten play with 1-0 win over Maryland

<p>Freshman forward Nicole Whitley dribbles the ball in Rutgers' match against Maryland at Yurcak Field&nbsp;Friday. Whitley scored the only goal in the Knights 1-0 win over the Terrapins to open Big Ten play.</p>

Freshman forward Nicole Whitley dribbles the ball in Rutgers' match against Maryland at Yurcak Field Friday. Whitley scored the only goal in the Knights 1-0 win over the Terrapins to open Big Ten play.

The No. 19 Rutgers women’s soccer team hosted and defeated Big Ten foe Maryland 1-0 in each team’s first conference game at Yurcak Field on Friday night.

The Scarlet Knights (6-1-1) and the Terrapins (2-6-1) had split the last two meetings as league opponents going into the match, but after the victory, the Knights are now 3-6-1 all-time against Maryland.

Rutgers topped Maryland in similar fashion to begin league play last season, which ended a seven-match losing streak against the Terps.

This time around, the Knights dominated the possession all night, only allowing Maryland to put more than a few passes together a handful of times.

Rutgers was the much more aggressive side on both ends of the pitch for all 90 minutes.

The team demonstrated its superior skills as well as its tactical savvy on many occasions throughout the game.

One such instance came when freshman midfielder Nicole Whitley had a free kick opportunity from just outside the left corner of the 18-yard box.

Whitley fired a clever shot, which slyly skipped by several Terrapin defender en route to the back of the net.

‘’We had an idea of placing the ball low to the ground while Colby (Ciarrocca) blinded the goalie,“ Whitley said. “I’m just happy to (make) an impact that helps the team win.”

The players from College Park couldn’t figure out how to stop Whitley from controlling the flow of the game and she made them pay as a result.

Whitley isn’t only a scorer as she leads the Knights with six assists, which is top in the Big Ten Conference and is the third highest mark in the entire NCAA.

“Nicole is a gamer and always has a huge impact in the biggest games,” said head coach Mike O’Neill. “She gets our offense going much of the time.”

She and Rutgers knocked on the door constantly throughout the match Friday, getting nine shots on goal — eight more than Maryland.

One of the closest chances the Knights had at adding a second score was in the 69th minute when the team knocked back-to-back headers after a free kick.

The first stroke the crossbar and the next one was saved on a sweet dive from the Terrapin goalkeeper.

Maryland could only muster four shots all game, as once again the Rutgers defense was masterful.

“I wish we finished more of our opportunities, but I’m proud we didn’t break and let anything up,” O’Neill said. “It was also great to see the team playing with confidence and keeping the possession for so long.”

The players echoed that sentiment and said that the team should’ve won by three or four goals, but the Knights were content to start Big Ten play with a victory.

Dating back to the 1993 season and the program's days in the Atlantic 10 Conference, BIG EAST Conference, American Athletic Conference, and now the Big Ten Conference, Rutgers is now 12-9-3 in conference openers.

“We were so excited and antsy to get out there,” said senior defender and captain Erin Smith. “We could’ve been easier on ourselves with another goal or two, but overall a win is a win.”

For updates on the Rutgers women's soccer team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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