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Rutgers travels to Morgantown to continue NCAA Tournament push

Knights hope to end West Virginia's season with road win

It’s now win or go home for the Rutgers women’s soccer team — quite literally — as the team heads to Morgantown, West Virginia to take on the second-seeded Mountaineers Friday at 7 p.m. for a second-round matchup in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Tournament. 

The No. 22 Scarlet Knights (13-2-5, 6-2-3) are coming off a convincing 3-1 home win against La Salle in the first round and are eager to continue their playoff push.

“So for tournament play we just know that every game could potentially be our last,” said junior midfielder Adora Moneme. “So every pass we make, every run that we do is something to get us going forward and get us to score goals so we can move on to the next round.”

Standing in their way is No. 7 West Virginia (16-3-2, 7-1-1) who trounced Bucknell handily in the first round by a score of 3-0. 

Last year’s Big 12 Tournament champions and College Cup runners-up, the Mountaineers boast an impressive track record, qualifying for the NCAA Tournament for the last 18 years.

“We know they’re a very well-organized team, a well-coached team, a tough opponent and that’s why they’re the second seed,” said head coach Mike O’Neill. “So the expectations are that it’s going to be another good match.”

As for Rutgers, it was in a similar position this time last year — playing on the road in the second round against a top-10 team — before falling to then-No. 5 Georgetown and halting the Knights’ season.

But Rutgers is determined to not let history repeat itself.

“We learned that there’s no room to fall short because you are not guaranteed anything,” said sophomore midfielder Nicole Whitley. “It’s do or die now, and knowing that our seasons, and careers for some, could end Friday, we won’t allow that to be an option. Nothing is given to us and we are prepared for this moment.”

And as the season draws closer and closer to a close, O’Neill has seen a difference in his team’s practice these past few days.

“I think what’s been different is that we had a little bit of a rest,” O’Neill said, referring to the time off between the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAAs. “We got healthy and we got better. We talk about all the time, it’s that one percent every day of coming in and getting better, and I think with the break that we had, we just played a lot and I think it was exactly what they needed.” 

Now well-rested, the Knights will need all the energy they can find to tame the wild offense of West Virginia. The Mountaineers come into the match second in the nation in shots per game at 21.19. 

Fortunately for Rutgers, the team owns one of the nation’s best defenses in its own right and is ready to overcome any and all challenges thrown its way, especially as the heavy underdog.

“We know what the atmosphere is going to look like with their fans and the fact that they’re at their home field,” Whitley said. “We just need to match that intensity and stick to our game plan knowing our only focus is winning the match.”

Despite the implications of this game, the Knights are preparing just as they would for any other game — but perhaps with an extra chip on their shoulders.

“Trainings have been good all year, but they’ve been really good the last 10 days,” O’Neill said.

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

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