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CARY, NC—An historic season for Rutgers’ women’s soccer program came to an end on Friday, as the Scarlet Knights fell 2-0 to Penn State in the NCAA semifinals.
Rutgers’ first ever trip to the Final Four resulted in a matchup against Big Ten rival Penn State, the third meeting of the teams this season.
The December 4 matchup was a battle of two teams ranked in the NSCAA Coaches’ Poll top ten. In the most recent rankings, Penn State was ranked sixth in the nation, with the Scarlet Knights ranked ninth.
The Scarlet Knights and Nittany Lions first met on October 18 in Piscataway. Rutgers won 1-0.
The Nittany Lions got their revenge in a higher-stakes second meeting of these two teams in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Top-seeded Penn State picked up a 2-0 win over Rutgers in front of the Happy Valley crowd to win the Big Ten Tournament.
Unfortunately for Rutgers, the third matchup played out similarly to the second meeting between the two teams.
The Nittany Lions dominated possession early, constantly getting the ball in Rutgers territory.
Seemingly every time the Scarlet Knights turned the tables and moved the ball against Penn State, the tough Nittany Lions defense would snatch the ball right back.
Penn State drew first blood on a Frannie Crouse score in the 24th minute. The shot narrowly missed a Rutgers defender and eluded the reach of goalkeeper Casey Murphy.
From there, the Scarlet Knights were forced to play catch-up, something Rutgers is not used to after shutting out their opponents in 19 games this season, including each of their NCAA Tournament opponents.
Rutgers came out a little more aggressive in the second half, but were still unable to convert on the few opportunities they had.
Penn State centerback Kaleigh Riehl effectively ended Rutgers’ hopes for a comeback in the 79th minute when she launched a loose ball past the Rutgers defense to put the Nittany Lions up 2-0.
Penn State more than doubled Rutgers’ in shots (12-5), and dominated the shots on goal (5-1). Penn State also picked up a whopping seven corners, while Rutgers had none.
At many points, the game felt like a replay of the conference championship game, as for the second time in a month, Penn State was the only team to crack the code of Rutgers’ defense, one of the best in the nation.
While Rutgers may have fell just short of its first national championship, this was still a season worth celebrating.
Rutgers ends its season with a 19-4-3 overall record. The 19-win season, a school record, came thanks to one of the NCAA’s premier defenses.
In 26 games this season, Rutgers allowed just ten goals. They didn’t give up their first goal of the season until their ninth game.
While they may not have been able to get revenge against Penn State, the Scarlet Knights were able to exorcise one of their demons in a quarterfinal matchup against Virginia.
Almost exactly a year after Virginia knocked Rutgers out of the 2014 NCAA Tournament, the two teams met again in this year’s quarterfinals.
Virginia made it all the way to the national championship game last year, and were the top-ranked team in the nation heading into this year’s tournament.
While the Cavaliers’ offense dominated Rutgers en route to a 4-0 victory last year, this matchup was a different story.
Rutgers’ steady defense shut down Virginia through 90 minutes of regulation and 20 minutes of overtime before Rutgers overcame Virginia after nine rounds of penalty kicks.
The future of the program also looks bright, as coach Mike O’Neill appears to have taken the program to new heights in just two years on the job.
In addition, several of Rutgers’ key players are young and have multiple years of eligibility remaining, including arguably the team’s MVP Murphy, who was a sophomore this season.
While the immediate disappointment and bitter taste of this loss might mask it right now, it seems the best is yet to come for Rutgers’ women’s soccer.