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Rutgers suits up for Big Ten Tournament semifinal

The Rutgers women’s soccer team is suiting up its armor and swords for Friday afternoon’s battle at Yurcak Field. The No. 16 Scarlet Knights (15-2-2, 8-2-1) and Michigan will go head-to-head at 1:30 p.m. for the Big Ten semifinal match, after the other semifinal match between Purdue and Penn State.

Even though Rutgers won its quarterfinal match against Indiana, the Knights have yet to score a goal in the Big Ten Tournament since the Hoosiers scored on their own goal to give Rutgers a lead it wouldn't surrender.

The Knights will need to repeat their results from the last time they went up against the No. 20 Wolverines (14-4-1, 8-2-1) this season, where Rutgers ran away with the 1-0 upset in Ann Arbor, Michigan, thanks to junior Nneka Moneme’s game-winning goal.

But, as No. 8 seed Purdue pulled a massive upset to No. 1 seed Wisconsin, any team has a shot to become Big Ten champions.

History is on the Knights’ side since Rutgers hasn’t lost a game to Michigan at Yurcak Field. The Knights and the Wolverines hold a 3-1-1 record, with Rutgers winning the last two games at home. Home field advantage is huge for a Knights team that garnered more than 1,500 fans in their quarterfinal match against Indiana.

“We stick to our same old routine,” said senior forward Tiernny Wiltshire. “We don't like to do anything extra, nothing too big just because that takes away from our success and our plan, so we have to keep it nice and simple.”

Rutgers is going to have to dig deep on Friday because Michigan is riding high off of its 3-0 shutout to Maryland last weekend. In their quarterfinal match, the Wolverines posted 13 shots on goal, with many of the midfielders posting shots for the team. 

Michigan’s Meredith Haakenson is the top scorer for the Wolverines, scoring her ninth goal of the season this past weekend. Big Ten Midfielder of the Year Sarah Stratigakis is No. 1 in the conference with 11 assists and six goals. She recorded two assists against the Terrapins (9-8-3, 5-5-1) on Haakenson and Emma Cooper’s goals. 

Stratigakis will be a huge potential threat that the Knights need to watch out for in creating opportunities for Michigan.

“I think that we're doing a good job of taking care of the ball,” said head coach Mike O’Neill. “I'd like us to own the ball a bit more, getting good stops because I always think you can get better at that.”

Ranked second in the conference in shots, the Wolverines aren’t afraid to go for the goal and have a strong offensive team. In the game against Maryland, Michigan found open players on long passes across the field and ended up with a handful of one-on-one plays to the net. Rutgers’ defense showed in its quarterfinal game and will have to step it up another notch against the Wolverines. 

The semifinal game will be decided based on ball possession. If the Knights are able to keep the ball away from Michigan and close down on their defense, Rutgers will be looking at a championship final against either the eighth-seeded Boilermakers or fourth-seeded Nittany Lions. 

Looking forward to each match, the Knights aren’t going to change anything, but instead will keep working on the things that got them to where they are from the start of the season.

“No, not at all,” Wiltshire said when asked about changing tactics for the tournament. “I think we're confident in who we are, and our brand, and what Rutgers stands for. With that, that'll do enough for us to get far.”

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

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