Rutgers looks to upset No. 13 Penn State following bad weekend

Officially out of the Division I United Soccer Coaches top-25 rankings for the first time this season, the Rutgers women’s soccer team now has an even bigger chip on its shoulder as it gets ready to take on conference rival No. 13 Penn State Thursday night at Yurcak Field.

“I think that any time we play Penn State it’s a battle, and we know that it’s a game that’s special,” said senior midfielder and captain Christy Monroy. “It’s more than just winning at home, it’s winning at home against Penn State.”

Still, the Scarlet Knights (9-2-3, 3-2-2) remain in fifth place in the Big Ten standings, and the mood and mentality of the team hasn’t changed — even at this pivotal point in the season.

“Right now we’re just focusing on our next game on Thursday,” said junior goalkeeper and captain Casey Murphy. “We are going to come out strong in training this week and prepare ourselves as best as possible for Penn State.”

Like most teams, it hasn’t been easy for Rutgers away from home, as it has struggled to close out games on the road and own a record of 2-1-3 away from Yurcak Field.

Nonetheless, head coach Mike O’Neill thinks winning on the road is key to any team’s success and is not making any excuses for his team’s performance over the weekend.

“I think the travel is not always easy, but at the same time it’s part of playing in one of the top conferences in the country and, being a part of the Big Ten, it’s important for our success,” O’Neill said. “But we still need to be able to overcome anything that happens so we don’t really talk much about the travel, we just kind of continue to focus on ways to get results.”

The competition has also gotten a lot tougher. The Knights' last seven games have all been against Big Ten teams — a stretch in which they have gone 3-2-2.

Rutgers will also close out its four remaining regular season games against Big Ten teams.

“The competition we’ve faced these past few weeks have been very physical and they’ve been well organized, prepared teams,” Murphy said. “So it’s just a matter of focusing on getting better each day so we can match that and beat these Big Ten teams.”

The good news for the Knights is that three of their final four regular season matches are at home, where they have gone 7-1-0, including the upcoming two.

The bad news is that those games are against the Nittany Lions (9-3-1, 5-1-1) and No. 12 Ohio State (11-2-1, 6-1-0).

“We know that the Big Ten is one of the best conferences in the country and we knew that the competition was going to pick up,” Monroy said. “We just have to make sure that we’re going into every game matching that level of intensity.”

Rutgers knows just how important this weekend is and how tough it will be, and despite its recent struggles, the team has been up to the task before.

“I don’t think we have to question anyone’s mentality, because everyone is going to be really zoned in for the game,” Monroy said.

But for their biggest challenge to date, the Knights will have to bring their best in order to make a final push to create some noise and shake things up in the Big Ten standings.

“The expectations are that (Penn State is) one of the top teams in the country and we expect it to be a very good game,” O’Neill said.

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

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