Rutgers heads to midwest to face off with Iowa, Nebraska

After splitting its two home games against Minnesota and Wisconsin last weekend, the Rutgers women’s soccer team looks to avenge its first loss of the season as it travels to Iowa City to take on Iowa on Thursday and then Lincoln to face Nebraska on Sunday.

The No. 23 Scarlet Knights (9-1-2, 3-1-1) head into the weekend tied for third in the Big Ten behind only Purdue and Ohio State.

“The Big Ten is a very competitive conference and every game is a battle,” said sophomore midfielder Taylor Aylmer. “We just go into every game with the mindset that it will be tough but we have to find a way to come out on top.”

In most cases, Rutgers has come out on top. A big reason for that success has been its defense. The Knights own the fourth-best goals against average (GAA) in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) at .240 goals allowed per game and have allowed the fewest goals in the Big Ten with just three.

The Hawkeyes (5-5-1, 0-3-1), Cornhuskers (7-3-2, 1-1-2) and every other team in the conference is well aware of Rutgers’ defensive prowess and therefore is eager to face the challenge.

“I think that’s definitely one of (the opponent's) biggest motives to make sure that they do get a goal on us just so that they have that under their belt,” said sophomore defender Chantelle Swaby. “And it obviously gives them momentum to wanna keep playing well and get more on us.”

Despite the Knights’ stingy defense all season, they did allow two goals at home in their loss to the Golden Gophers last Friday — something Swaby thinks the team needs to address.

“I think that the defense actually needs to step it up,” she said. “Coming in with a loss from this weekend, it kind of upsets us so we just need to make sure that we have our minds in the right place and we need to make sure that we are aware that we are playing two top teams this weekend so we need to make sure that we are on our game.”

In its last six games, Rutgers has gone to overtime in four of them including its last game against Wisconsin in which the team won 1-0. Despite this, head coach Mike O’Neill doesn’t think it has affected his team.

In fact, the team showed great poise after enduring its first loss of the season two days prior — something O’Neill doesn’t think was a coincidence.

“I think that’s the best time to learn,” O’Neill said. “We learn in the face of adversity so what we learned is how we need to be a little bit better at the details. … People always focus on the negative, we’re focusing on the positive but we’re gonna learn from that.”

The Knights hope not to suffer another loss this season but know the road to get there will not be easy.

“Both games are going to be very tough,” O’Neill said. “Iowa is a tough team, very well coached and same thing with Nebraska but we’re just focusing on Iowa right now. Every game in the Big Ten for us has been one-goal games and we don’t expect anything different (this weekend).”

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

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