Rutgers' season ends with milestone achievements
Cut early in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the Rutgers women’s soccer team’s season is up, but not without leaving an impact for the future of the program. The Scarlet Knights (15-4-2, 8-2-1) went undefeated in non-conference play, hosted their first Big Ten Tournament and made it to the Big Ten semifinals.
“All the people who love you and support you are there, so it automatically makes you up your game because you don’t want to disappoint the people who come to watch,” said junior forward Carina Hendley on hosting the Big Ten Tournament. “Obviously, having that support there makes it that much more fun.”
Rutgers did finish off the season earlier than anticipated, though, falling short in the Big Ten semifinal and the first round of the NCAA Tournament to a team that it had previously beaten in its season opener.
Much of the credit this season goes to the seniors, who made huge contributions in the starting lineup and produced key game-winning goals.
Senior forward Brittany LaPlant notched back-to-back Big Ten goals against multiple defenders. Her classmate, senior forward Jenna Sayers, scored the equalizer against Penn State to eventually upset the Nittany Lions (16-6-1, 8-3-0) on their own turf.
Senior back Amanda Visco and midfielder Taylor Aylmer were a duo that was unmatched when it came to precision in corner kicks and headers. And, not to mention, opponents were falling to their knees to try and defend against senior forward Tiernny Wiltshire.
Senior back Chantelle Swaby is looking to go pro for Jamaica. Aylmer, Visco, LaPlant and Wiltshire hope to get drafted and play professionally in the U.S.
“Leaving a championship or champion mentality,” Aylmer said about what legacy the Rutgers seniors want to leave behind. “Every year, this program competes for a Big Ten Championship, competes to go as far as possible in the NCAA. There’s nothing less than that standard. The quarterfinals or not making the (NCAA) Tournament isn’t enough for this program.”
The seniors’ departure leaves huge shoes to fill for the rest of Rutgers' defense. The Knights had one of the top defensive teams in the nation with Visco, Swaby and Wiltshire all being staples in the back. Without them, the Knights will need to rebuild their defense with a new starting squad.
“The goal when a student-athlete comes to Rutgers University is that, by the time they leave, the women's soccer program and the University are both better because they were here,” said head coach Mike O'Neill. “Every one of our seniors has accomplished that and so much more.”
Luckily, Rutgers’ top scorers are here to stay for another year on the Banks. Junior forward Nneka Moneme had a breakout season, scoring 11 goals – 4 straight against Big Ten opponents, including back-to-back game-winning goals.
Following behind Moneme, junior forward Amirah Ali has been at the top of her game since becoming a Knight and put up 9 goals this season. Both Ali and Moneme will be Big Ten threats next year looking for redemption from this past season.
From upsetting then-No. 11 Tennessee and No. 16 Michigan to being taken down by other opponents, Rutgers ended the season with the most regular-season wins in program history (14), most conference wins in program history (eight), an eighth straight NCAA Tournament appearance and six All-Big Ten recipients.
Every season is different. Every season is a new team. What records are in store for next season?
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