Rutgers buries Harvard at home to advance to second round of NCAA Tournament
In the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Rutgers women’s soccer team defeated Harvard by a score of 3-0 at home Saturday evening.
The victory clinched the Scarlet Knights (12-4-6) a place in the tournament's second round, where they will travel to Georgetown to face the Hoyas.
Rutgers took care of business in an orderly fashion Saturday. From the start of the game, The Knights were knocking at the door on offense.
Less than five minutes into the match, junior forward Colby Ciarrocca made a long-ranged run behind the Harvard back line.
Freshman midfielder Nicole Whitley found Ciarrocca with a beautiful through ball and she fired a shot that ricocheted off the post.
A few frames later, Whitley found a quality shooting opportunity of her own as she beat two defenders off the dribble and launched a low ball across the face of the goal.
Unfortunately for Rutgers, Crimson senior goalkeeper Lizzie Durack replaced the goal post and prevented the Knights from scoring.
The teams consistent pressure eventually paid off, as Whitley’s ranging eyes located another cutting teammate.
The All-Big Ten Freshman Team selection flung a sharp pass to senior captain Madison Tiernan, who sprinted by several Crimson defenders and placed a left-footed line drive to the bottom corner of the net putting the Knights up 1-0.
Tiernan was not done there though, as the Second Team All-Big Ten forward gained another goal before the end of the first half.
In the 40th minute — the Voorhees, N.J. native — drived down the left flank of the field was ready to attack. She then altered course toward the net, easily maneuvering past a couple Crimson players in the process.
Tiernan executed pretty footwork with the ball and proceeded to blister it straight into the goal.
“It (is) most likely my last game at home on Yurcak Field, I wanted to leave a mark,” Tiernan said. “I’m happy I could help bring us one game closer to an NCAA title.”
With the 2-0 advantage, O’Neill gave his forward a brief rest — but as Tiernan was exiting the pitch, the home crowd of over a thousand supporters became a flurry of applause.
On the other hand, Harvard’s premier striker, Margaret Purce, who was named the Ivy League Women’s Soccer Player of the Year, couldn’t piece together many chances.
“We knew that she was a special player, so for us it was important to shut her down, but at the same time make sure we (could) continue to defend everyone else who needed to be defended,” said Rutgers head coach Mike O’Neill. “I thought our players did a great job at that.”
Almost every time Purce touched the ball, there was a swarm of Rutgers defenders immediately surrounding her.
“We watched a lot of film on Purce because she’s a real threat with the ball at her feet,” Tiernan said. “We organized our defense a bit for her, but more so we focus on us because we’re not scared of anyone.”
In addition to excellent defensive play, the Knights' bench provided a huge spark throughout the match.
With his team up two goals in the second half, O’Neill decided to releave a bunch of his starters with young substitutes like freshman midfielder Taylor Aylmer.
“Since the preseason, it’s been a stress (on) the coaches that the starters pass the baton smoothly to the bench and that the substitutes bring the same intensity on the field,” Aylmer said. “We have to put our best foot forward to achieve success.”
Although she was not the only one apart of Rutgers to come off the pine and make an impact, Aylmer did provide an important insurance goal the Knights that really solidified their victory.
In the 84th minute, Ciarrocca was along the goal line when she crossed to Aylmer near the top of the 18-yard box.
The rookie promptly smacked the ball to the back of the net, securing her second goal on the season.
On the other end of the field, Rutgers goalkeeper Alana Jimenez didn’t see a ton of action throughout the match, but she did make an impressive save that kept Harvard off the scoreboard and assured that the Knights’ clean sheet remained intact.
All in all, it was a complete a performance as Rutgers has put together in a while, but the team doesn’t care much about this match; only the next one.
“Overall it was a good win, but we’re not satisfied or complacent,” Tiernan said. “We’ve got our eyes on the prize, which is a championship, and we know each game we win is one step closer to that goal.”
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