Rutgers returns home to host Nebraska on Senior Night

<p>Senior defender Erin Smith will be 1 of 9 Knights honored before kick-off Saturday on Senior Day.</p>

Senior defender Erin Smith will be 1 of 9 Knights honored before kick-off Saturday on Senior Day.

After playing 5 of its last 6 games on the road, the Rutgers women’s soccer team is feeling like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, dreaming of coming home.

For the Scarlet Knights, there has been “no place like home” as they have had more success on their own turf, earning a 6-1-2 record at Yurcak Field in Piscataway.

On the other side, compiling three wins, one loss and three draws away from campus, Rutgers has acquired an overall record of 9-2-5, which places the squad fifth in the current Big Ten standings.

In order to host a postseason game, the Knights need to be in the top four of the conference, making their upcoming match against Nebraska Saturday extremely important.

“The players understand the magnitude of defeating Nebraska,” said head coach Mike O’Neill. “We want to make sure we play our best soccer especially because we’re fighting for a better tournament seed.”

Senior forward Jaycie Johnson leads the Cornhusker (10-5-2, 4-3-2) offense with 10 goals and two assists this season, but she’s not the only scoring threat for Nebraska. Junior midfielder Haley Hanson has added seven goals and two assists of her own.

Both Johnson and Hanson are weapons that pose a huge obstacle in Rutgers’ path to victory.

Senior midfielder Sydney Miramontez fills the role of playmaker for the Cornhuskers, creating opportunities for the two attackers.

Miramontez has one goal and an impressive seven assists on the year and is another player that the Knights needs to focus on.

“Nebraska is a tough outfit to beat with a lot firepower,” O’Neill said. “The conference this year is so tough top to bottom and every game is a battle.”

The Big Ten does have a remarkable amount of parity this season as nine different schools currently own conference winning percentages of at least .500.

The relative equality of the teams have contributed to the competitive nature of the Knights’ schedule this year.

Rutgers has played eight overtime matches and fought through five draws putting a strain on the team, but the side still couldn’t be more excited for Saturday.

The match against Nebraska will take place at 7 that evening and as the final regular season game at home for the Knights and will be their annual Senior Night.

“It’s going to be a special moment to be honored before the game,” said senior captain Erin Smith. “I know I’m going to be pretty sad and might even cry, but once the game starts I’ll get my emotions in check.”

Rutgers has nine seniors who will be recognized in the pregame ceremony, including Smith and fellow captains forward Madison Tiernan and midfielder Tori Prager.

The night should prove to be a thrilling event as the players’ family and friends will be cheering them on in one of their last hurrahs as Knights.

The freshmen, sophomores and juniors are also looking forward to the match, as it will give them an opportunity to show their gratitude toward their elder teammates.

“We want to take a big lead so all the veterans can get a lot of field time,” said freshman defender Chantelle Swaby. “The seniors deserve to all play together with everything they’ve done for us underclassmen.”

The seniors have taken on the roles of mentors this year, embodying the culture that O’Neill has implemented at Rutgers.

He believes that team chemistry is of the utmost importance and that in order to be a great team, strong relationships between the players must be built.

At the same time, Rutgers will be concentrated on defeating Nebraska and obtaining three points to put the team one step closer to a conference title.

“I’m honestly shocked to be a senior and that this night is for our grade,” Smith said. “We’ve been through a lot together and we want to end our final season the right way.”

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

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