Rutgers faces No. 17 Northwestern in quarterfinals of Big Ten Tournament

<p>Junior forward Colby Ciarrocca scored one of Rutgers’ two goals in its 2-0 win over Northwestern Sept. 23. She is second on the team in goals. </p>

Junior forward Colby Ciarrocca scored one of Rutgers’ two goals in its 2-0 win over Northwestern Sept. 23. She is second on the team in goals.

This entire 2016 season, it has been the Rutgers women’s soccer team’s mindset to only worry about one game at a time — the one next on the schedule.

Currently on the docket for the Scarlet Knights is a matchup with No. 17 Northwestern in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament.

Rutgers will play the Wildcats at 5:30 p.m. in St. Paul, Minnesota, on a neutral field.

The Knights (10-3-6, 4-2-5) are looking to carry the momentum they garnered from their upset victory over Penn State on Sunday.

“Last game helped us build more confidence that we can beat anyone,” said senior midfielder Jennifer Andresen. “We’ve been preparing extremely hard and will continue to do so until game time.”

Rutgers still has a lot of preparation and strategy to consider for Friday’s semifinal as the team will face an admirable foe.

The Wildcats (14-1-4)  lead the country in shutout percentage as the team has prevented an opponent from scoring in nearly 79 percent of its matches.

They also have the most shutouts in the nation with 15, the highest save percentage with .938 and goals against average, only permitting .25 goals per game during the regular season.

Northwestern’s goalkeeper Lauren Clem was named the 2016 Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year after leading the conference in every statistical category at the position except for saves, in which she places second.

“We’re expecting a well-coached and well-organized side that should prove a challenge to us, especially from their defense,” said head coach Mike O’Neill. “It should be a close game and a very hard-fought match."

Northwestern isn’t only a defensive juggernaut, but on the offensive side of the ball, junior midfielder Kassidy Gorman has paced the Wildcats recently with four goals and eight points.

Early on in the year, sophomore forward Brenna Lovera was commanding Northwestern’s attack with six goals and 12 points, but she hasn’t touched the field since the Wildcats’ lone loss on Sept. 23 due to injury.

That defeat actually came at the hands of the Knights, as Rutgers was victorious over Northwestern by a score of 2-0 back in September.

The game took place on the Knights’ home turf at Yurcak Field in Piscataway and two upperclassmen figured out how to get on the scoreboard, which has proved almost impossible to do against the Wildcats this year.

Senior forward Erica Murphy and junior forward Colby Ciarrocca scored goals for Rutgers, giving the team its first win over the Wildcats in three tries.

This time around, it may be a little different as postseason soccer gives both squads a clean slate.

“When it gets to the quarters, semis or finals, past results don’t matter,” Andresen said. “Our 2-0 victory means nothing and we’ve got to focus to win again.”

In addition to playing playoff soccer, which brings enough pressure on its own, the Knights have to travel halfway across the country to get to the location of the match.

Rutgers has been on the road for eight of its last 10 games, but the team isn’t too worried about that wear and tear because the fans have been there every step of the way.

“The support we get means the world to us and I know it’ll be there even in Minnesota,” O’Neill said. “There were over 100 people waiting when our bus arrived in Happy Valley last game and that really brings our players and coaching staff great pride.”

Hopefully, the Knights can have their passionate following something to cheer about on Friday as they attempt to continue their run through the postseason.

Rutgers has advanced to this point in the conference tournament before, as last year the team went all the way to the championship game.

“We’re excited to be back here in the semis, but the final is where we want to be,” O’Neill said. “The fact is that we need to win Friday in order to be able to reach our goal of winning a Big Ten title.”

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

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