The postseason is finally here for the Rutgers women's soccer team and the program has thrived in the late fall on the pitch the last few seasons. In all three Big Ten Tournaments that Rutgers has played in, they’ve advanced to the championship game each time. However, they’ve lost the title game all three years. If they want to finally break through and become the first Rutgers program in any sport to win a Big Ten championship, they’ll have to take down their rival as the first step.
Rutgers is the fourth seed and will begin their postseason journey in the Big Ten Tournament Quarterfinals against fifth seeded Penn State on Sunday at 1 p.m at Yurcak Field. The two schools have faced each other more than anyone else the past four seasons, so it seems appropriate they’ll go head to head in the postseason for a third consecutive year. While Penn State defeated Rutgers in 2015 in the Big Ten championship game and the College Cup, the women's soccer’s version of the Final Four, en route to a national championship, the Scarlet Knights actually have a winning record against the Nittany Lions since head coach Mike O'Neill took over the program in 2014. Penn State has only lost six Big Ten games total the past four seasons and half of those defeats have come against Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights hold a 3-2-2 record against Penn State during O’Neill’s tenure, including a 2-0 upset victory in last season’s Big Ten Tournament Quarterfinals.
Rutgers finished the regular season with an overall record of 12-2-4 and 6-2-3 in conference play. Penn State finished 10-4-3 overall and with an identical record of 6-2-3 in Big Ten play. The Scarlet Knights won the third tiebreaker, which is determined by results against mutual opponents that finished higher in the standings than both teams. Rutgers beat Big Ten regular season champion Ohio State and tied second place Northwestern for four points total. The Nittany Lions beat the Wildcats, but lost to the Buckeyes, so they lost the tiebreaker with just three points, resulting in this game being played at Yurcak Field on Sunday. The weather is supposed to be very windy and rainy, which will make this rivalry game even more interesting.
The winner of this quarterfinal contest will face the winner of the match between top seeded Ohio State and eighth seeded Iowa. Ironically, Rutgers beat the top seeded Buckeyes this season, but lost to Iowa on the road. The semifinals and championship game will be played the following weekend at Grand Park in Westfield, Indiana. Here is the complete women’s soccer Big Ten Tournament bracket. All quarterfinals matches are being played on Sunday at the higher seed’s home field.
In terms of the NCAA Tournament, Rutgers is in good position to qualify for a sixth consecutive year. The most recent RPI rankings have Rutgers at #17, one spot behind Ohio State and six spots behind Penn State. A win over the Nittany Lions on Sunday would boost the resume of the Scarlet Knights even more and likely help their seeding. All three Big Ten schools would appear to be locks for the NCAA Tournament and are the only teams from the conference that are ranked in the RPI top 20. Wisconsin is next at 34th and Northwestern follows at 41st. Rutgers went 2-0-2 against the four other Big Ten teams ranked highest in the RPI within the conference.
Rutgers has high hopes for the postseason, as head coach Mike O’Neill and the players have told me previously that championships are the goal for the program. The Scarlet Knights have won three straight games entering the Big Ten Tournament and two key members of the team won player of the year awards from the conference on Friday. Casey Murphy was named the Goalkeeper of the Year and Amirah Ali was named Freshman of the Year. You can read about both and the rest of the Big Ten honors given out here. While Rutgers is a young team, as 21 of 28 players are freshmen and sophomores, they are a talented group that could make another deep run in both the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments. Their quest begins Sunday.