Rutgers hopes to remain unbeaten in Big Ten opener against Maryland

A pair of undefeated teams will meet head-to-head at Yurcak Field this Sunday afternoon as the Rutgers women’s soccer team hosts Maryland in the Big Ten opener.

The No. 13 Scarlet Knights (6-0-1), coming off a thrilling 0-0 draw against Georgetown last weekend, will have a full week of practice to get ready for the Terrapins (6-0-1).

“What we do is look at (last) Sunday’s match and then we look at the things we did well and areas that we need to improve upon,” said head coach Mike O’Neill. “So the coaching staff has spent the last couple of days working on that.”

With a full week of practice the team has a little more time to catch its collective breath and focus on itself rather than the opponent. The scouting and specific game plan comes later in the week.

Although Sunday’s match will be a conference game — important for postseason rankings — O’Neill has stressed to his team to take each game at a time. But that sure doesn’t mean Rutgers isn’t aware of the game’s implications.

“You know we talk about the most important game being the next game, so they understand the value of each game,” O’Neill said. “But they also understand the value of Big Ten play.”

The Terrapins, who finished last season with a record of 3-15-1, have put that season behind them and have already doubled that win total so far this year. The Knights expect them to come to Piscataway with the confidence of an undefeated team, and rightly so.

But Rutgers is undefeated in its own right and will be playing at home where the team is a perfect 5-0.

“I definitely think that since it’s a Big Ten team they’ll definitely be a bit more of a competition,” said freshman midfielder Alexa Ferreira. “But our job is just to focus on our game and to keep getting better.”

A big part of the Knights’ success this early in the season has undoubtedly been their defense. In seven contests the team has yet to let up a goal — the only remaining Big Ten team to do so.

A key member of that defense and ultimately the biggest reason Rutgers still hasn’t given up a goal is junior goalkeeper Casey Murphy — one of two Knights who received Big Ten honors this past weekend. Murphy received the United Soccer Coaches National Player of the Week along with the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week.

“Obviously it’s a great honor to receive those awards,” Murphy said. “However when one person receives an award on our team we all receive it. I think the success so far for our team and for myself personally is a reflection of the coaching staff.”

The other Rutgers player to receive Big Ten honors was Ferreira, who was awarded Big Ten Freshman of the Week after scoring her first career goal over the weekend against George Mason. She also added an assist in the team’s 2-0 win.

“It’s definitely something to keep working for and I’m really happy that all my hard work has been paying off,” Ferreira said. “But it just means that now I have to keep working harder. I’m definitely more confident now that I have my first goal under my belt, but I’m just happy that I can help the team in any way to win.”

With the first conference match of the season on the horizon, a lot of energy is to be expected — especially with two undefeated teams. The key is to harness that energy and to use it to your advantage. The team who does that should come out on top.

“(The Terrapins) are undefeated so they’re going to have a confidence about them,” O’Neill said. “The first game in Big Ten, there is always a lot more emotion. Those are the things we expect, so what we need to do is to deal with the emotion and just play.”

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

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