Rutgers meets Wisconsin in final regular season match to determine seeding in Big Ten Tournament
It all boils down to this for the Rutgers women’s soccer team, as it faces Wisconsin in Madison on Wednesday at 8 p.m. for its final game of the regular season.
Both the Scarlet Knights (9-2-6, 4-1-5) and the Badgers (7-4-7, 4-2-4) are currently in the hunt for a conference championship, with the two schools located at fourth and sixth, respectively, in the standings.
Rutgers reached this point through solid defensive play, achieving nine shutouts so far in the 2016 campaign.
The team has also received offensive contributions from numerous positions, including a special rookie performance from freshman midfielder Nicole Whitley. She leads the entire Big Ten in assists with nine on the year.
On the other hand, the main reason why the Knights aren’t atop the leaderboard is due to a lack of goals in crucial situations. Rutgers played into overtime in nine matches, six of which ended in draws.
“We’ve been dominating in overtimes getting way more shots off than our opponents, but we need to finish our chances,” said senior captain Tori Prager. “There’s no need to be in that position against Wisconsin though. We want to take care of business in regular time.”
Ideally, the Knights will do just that because there is a lot on the line in Wednesday night’s match.
The conference standings will be jumbled after all the different squads play their last regular season games.
With one Big Ten match remaining, six teams are separated by just two points and are all fighting for the final five spots to make the tournament.
“We know this is the end of the season and we need to stick together on the field to get the job done,” said senior captain Madison Tiernan. “A win could get us a home game, which would be huge because we would be playing in front of all our family and friends.”
With a Rutgers win and Michigan loss or draw against Indiana, the Knights would clinch the No. 4 seed for the Big Ten Tournament and host a Big Ten Tournament match at Yurcak Field on Sunday.
Taking the outside influences out of the equation, if Rutgers simply win, it clinches a berth in the top eight, giving them a chance at the conference title they’ve been aiming for all season.
“We have to make sure everyone is healthy and rested so we can execute the game plan,” said head coach Mike O’Neill. “The players have worked their butts off this season, so hopefully we get that bounce or two to lift us Wednesday night.”
The Knights may need that lucky bounce considering the Badgers are one of the best defensive teams in the Big Ten. Wisconsin has only allowed 14 goals all season on 71 shots on goal and 154 shots overall.
At the same time, the side does not threaten Rutgers with offensive firepower as the Badgers have only scored 19 goals in 18 games.
The Knights are ready for a low-scoring battle but know they can’t settle for another scoreless draw.
“We’ve had great practices all week and have been working extremely hard to be prepared for Wisconsin,” Prager said. “We can’t leave Madison without three points.”
Traveling on the road for the sixth time in the last eight games also presents an obstacle for Rutgers.
Sleep schedules are affected and general wear and tear grows when away from home, but the Knights appear up to the challenge.
Considering the crucial circumstances that come with the result of Wednesday night’s match, the team can’t afford to miss a beat.
“We’re capable of handling the adversity that’s been given to us,” Tiernan said. “We can play anywhere, especially now that everything is on the line.”
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