It's been quite the year for Rutgers soccer, hasn't it?
Rutgers men's soccer has had a remarkable turnaround after a forgettable first year in the Big Ten, and they are within striking distance of their first Big Ten regular season title. Carli Lloyd became a household name as the MVP of the United States Women's National Team that won the World Cup over the summer.
And now, Rutgers women's soccer has a shot at its first ever Big Ten Tournament championship.
The Scarlet Knights finished the regular season with a 14-2-2 record overall, with a 7-2-2 mark in conference play, finishing in third place. The 14 total wins on the season led the Big Ten.
Rutgers took the collegiate soccer world by storm when they shut out their opponents in their first eight games of the season. The team inched towards a Top 10 spot in the rankings, but back-to-back road losses to Illinois and Northwestern set them back.
Still, Mike O'Neill's squad would not be deterred, as they went undefeated over their final eight games, including wins over ranked opponents Penn State and Minnesota. Rutgers finished the regular season unbeaten at home (9-0-1), joining the 1984 and 1987 squads as the only teams to accomplish this feat.
While Rutgers would finish the season on a strong note, it wasn't enough for the regular season crown, as Penn State and Wisconsin's 25 points edged out Rutgers' 23. But an argument can certainly be made that Rutgers is the best team in the conference.
In the latest NSCAA Poll, Rutgers is the highest-ranked Big Ten team, coming in at No. 9. Meanwhile, Penn State and Wisconsin finished the regular season ranked No. 10 and No. 25, respectively.
There's also no doubt Rutgers has some of the most talented individuals in the conference. On Friday, the Big Ten announced sophomore goalkeeper Casey Murphy was named Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year, while senior center back Erica Skroski received Big Ten Defender of the Year honors.
Fellow senior center back Brianne Reed joined Murphy and Skroski as First Team All-Big Ten selections. The Scarlet Knights also proved the future of the program is bright, as midfielder Katelyn Walters and defender Kenie Wright were named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team.
While the exciting wins, the pristine home record and the individual honors are all well and good, there is more work to be done.
This weekend, the third-seeded Scarlet Knights will host the tournament's sixth seed: the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
The quarterfinal matchup will take place at Yurcak Field on Sunday afternoon, at 1:00pm. This will be the second time Minnesota has visited Rutgers in just over a week. The Scarlet Knights defeated the then-No.19 Golden Gophers 3-1 on Friday, October 23.
Last year, Rutgers made a quick exit in the Big Ten Tournament. Fans were shocked to see the Scarlet Knights upset by Iowa in the first round. The Hawkeyes edged out Rutgers 1-0.
This year, they look for more favorable results.
If you've watched any of Rutgers' games this year, you'll know that this team seems to be on the verge of greatness. They're playing with a passion and a focus becoming of champions. The talent is undoubtedly there. And it's very clear O'Neill has taken the huge step forward in his second year that fans hoped to see when he was announced as the replacement for longtime head coach Glenn Crooks.
The fan atmosphere has been great this season, and hopefully that continues this Sunday. There's no rain in the forecast. Rutgers is knocking on the door of a Big Ten Championship. We've got playoff soccer, people!
Also, unless you have a BTN Plus subscription, the only way to watch the game will be from your seat at Yurcak Field. So if you can make it, be sure to come out, stuff those bleachers, and support our Scarlet Knights!
Yes, yes, I know it's NFL Sunday. But it can wait. Set your DVRs accordingly. I already set mine.
(On a related note: If you see me at the game on Sunday, please do NOT update me on the Giants score!)
So to review: Carli Lloyd makes #CHOPNation and our entire nation proud. Rutgers men's soccer, who finishes its regular season with a trip to Maryland on Wednesday, is having a huge comeback season, and is fighting for the Big Ten regular season crown. And Rutgers women's soccer has tournament play at Yurcak Field.
What a time to be alive.