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No. 21 Rutgers loses 1st Big Ten match of season in winless weekend

The Rutgers women's soccer team went into the weekend with the chance to solidify its position at the top of the Big Ten, but walked away from its matches against Ohio State and Penn State with only 1 point after a tie on Friday night and its first conference loss of the season against the Nittany Lions on Sunday.

After the weekend set, the Scarlet Knights (9-2-5, 5-1-3) dropped to a tie for second place in the Big Ten, as they trail Penn State by 3 points with two games left to play. Rutgers still has a chance to claim first place in the Big Ten by the end of the season, but would have to win both of its remaining matches while the Lions would have to lose at least once.

The Knights kicked off the weekend in Columbus, playing to their second scoreless tie of the season. The tie against the Buckeyes marked Rutgers' third straight shutout and its eighth of the season.

Offensively, the Knights had their chances, but couldn’t manage to find the back of the net, only getting a shot on goal twice. After the weekend, Rutgers has now gone eight straight regulation periods without scoring.

“We’re putting ourselves in position, we’re just not executing. It’s something we have to work on but the fact that we’re putting the ball in position to score means we’re not too far off,” said head coach Mike O'Neill.

The double overtime game against Ohio State marked the Knights' ninth straight overtime game, and a program record 10th in total on the season. During the streak, Rutgers went an undefeated 5-0-4, the best start in conference play for the program since the 2006 team that played in the Big East. 

Sophomore forward Amirah Ali scored the golden goal in four of those matches and senior midfielder Adora Moneme scored 1 against Minnesota. The streak would be halted at nine though, as the Knights played their first game that ended after 90 minutes in over a month.

On Sunday, the team traveled to Jeffrey Field to take on a Penn State team that had won four straight. The two teams came into the match atop the standings with 18 points each and the winner would put itself in control of the conference.

Rutgers had outpaced its opponents in possession and shots taken in the matches leading up to this game, but struggled in both of those categories early against the Lions.

After a scoreless first half, Penn State had the advantage in shots and possession. The first half saw three shots on goal combined between the two teams, but no scoring occurred until the second.

Lions midfielder Marissa Sheva started off the second half when she beat freshman goalkeeper Meagan McClelland for what would be the deciding goal. It was only the 5th goal allowed by McClelland since conference play began.

The Knights put themselves in position to score the equalizer several times throughout the rest of the game, but did not get a shot on goal throughout the rest of the game.

McClelland was unable to preserve her fourth straight shutout, but she did tally four saves — only one shy of her season best. Despite the loss, the Rutgers defense has slowly become one of the most efficient units in the conference, as it is now second in the Big Ten in average goals against.

The offense is statistically still a top-five offense, but has stagnated over the past couple weeks. The Knights are still looking for balance in their scoring as no player aside from Ali has scored for Rutgers in the past four games.

The Knights caught a surging Penn State team in the midst of a prolific win streak. With the win over Rutgers, the Lions have won five straight, the longest conference winning streak in the Big Ten this year. 

The win over the Knights also marks Rutgers as Penn State's toughest opponent, with the other teams it has beaten during the streak at a combined 9-19-7 record in conference play.

The match altered the landscape of the Big Ten with one week left before tournament play begins. The Lions have taken sole possession of the No. 1 seed and can clinch it with a win and at least a tie in their final two games. 

They would host Minnesota in the first round if the season ended today, but the other two teams in contention for that No. 8 seed are Northwestern and Iowa.

Meanwhile, the Knights are tied with Wisconsin for second place, but currently own the No. 3 seed by virtue of Wisconsin’s better overall record. If the season were to end today, they would host sixth seeded Illinois, but Ohio State has a chance to end up as that No. 6 seed as well before season’s end, setting up a rematch of the scoreless tie this past weekend at Yurcak Field.

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

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