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No. 21 Rutgers hosts Minnesota in Big Ten Tournament 1st round

The brackets are now set and the path to the Big Ten Championship title begins on Sunday. Owning the No. 2 seed, the Rutgers women's soccer team will have the privilege of hosting in the first round, and with a win it will earn the right to travel to Westfield, Ind. for a chance to compete for the title.

In 2015, Rutgers hosted the Gophers in the opening round as well and dominated the them 4-1, en route to a championship game appearance. 

The next year, when the Knights made it back to the championship game for the second year in a row, they suffered a second consecutive championship game defeat to a Minnesota team ranked No. 8 in the country — the Gophers’ Emily Heslin scored the game winner in the final five minutes.

Sunday’s opening round matchup will mark the third postseason meeting between the two teams since Rutgers joined the Big Ten, and it comes off the heels of an overtime battle between the two teams earlier in the season. 

When the two teams met in Minnesota back on Sept. 30, the Knights pulled out a 2-1 overtime win, in a game that saw freshman goalkeeper Meagan McClelland set a career high mark with five saves.

“I think they’ll have the same game plan because they did give us problems ... the fact that I had five saves in that game gives me a bit of confidence, because if I did it once, then I can do it again. And the team was huge in that game stepping up on defense, so we’ll definitely be able to do it again.” McClelland said.

Despite being a freshman, McClelland is one of the strongest assets the team has going into the tournament. 

Not only has McClelland been a difference maker for her team, but her play ranks among the top of goalkeepers in the Big Ten. In her freshman campaign, McClelland has recorded eight shutouts, which is tied for the conference lead and owns the lowest goals against average in the Big Ten with a 0.60 average.

McClelland and the defense will be up against a Gophers unit that ranks just below Rutgers in goals scored, but one that shares a high degree of chemistry, as they are top three in the conference in assists. 

Sunday’s match will also feature the top two goal scorers in the Big Ten on the field. Sophomore forward Amirah Ali and Minnesota senior April Bockin are tied for the conference lead in goals scored with 10 a piece and are the only two players to break the double digit mark. 

The matchup between Ali and Bockin will be a widely covered headline that could come down to deciding the first round.

“I just want to keep up what we have going. As a team I feel like the expectation is higher though, we’ve done so well in the conference so we just want to keep that up” Ali said. “They’re definitely gonna come out harder since we did beat them earlier in the season, but I feel like just being home in this atmosphere ... we’re just gonna come out harder and I hope we finish it in regulation.”

Rutgers will be looking for its first home Big Ten tournament win since the win over Minnesota back in 2015, and will enter this tournament with only a handful of players that were on that 2015 team. 

Senior midfieilder Adora Moneme, senior backfielder Kenie Wright and fifth-year senior goalkeeper Brianna Scarola are the only players on the roster that have experienced a home Big Ten tournament win as Knights.

“It’s sometimes hard to put into words the feeling of the game, but the moment we start to warm up for a postseason Big Ten tournament game, everyone just kind of feels that sense of ‘this is it, this is real,'" said junior captain and midfielder Taylor Aylmer. "And it definitely is just such a different feeling and something that you have to experience and I don’t think they realize how lucky they are to be in that position. And I just hope that they understand and work hard for the people that came before them and the people that come after them.”

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

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