Despite disappointing one goal losses in the first round of the NCAA Tournament the previous two seasons, the Rutgers women’s soccer program combined for a 26-8-6 overall record and 15-3-4 mark in Big Ten play. It resulted in two consecutive second place regular season finishes, something no other Scarlet Knights program has come close to doing since joining the conference in 2014. The 14 regular season victories last fall was a program best, which clinched an impressive eighth consecutive NCAA Tournament berth. However, the future looks even brighter as seventh year head coach Mike O’Neill is recruiting at an incredibly high level.
The key has been accomplishing something many coaches at Rutgers in every sport aim to do but rarely are able to. O’Neill is keeping the best talent in New Jersey home for their collegiate careers.
Earlier this month, the 2020 recruiting class that includes ten signees was ranked 8th in the country per Top Drawer Soccer. It’s a group loaded with talent that features five 4-star recruits including midfielders Sara Brocious, Rebecca Fluchel, Samantha Kroeger, Julianne Leskauskas and defender Emma Misal. Overall, seven players in the class are from New Jersey and six come from the club team PDA (Player Development Academy), where O’Neill serves as Director of Coaching.
“This 2020 class is a very talented group that will allow us to add depth in every position. They all are fierce competitors who love to compete and are well experienced playing in big games,” said Head Coach Mike O’Neill, when announcing the class. “The group includes youth national champions, high school All-Americans, and players with youth national team experience. ”It is a group of amazing people with great character that will add to our program culture, academically and athletically. Our expectation is for this class to come in and compete for playing time right away. The goal of the state university is to put a fence around New Jersey and keep the best players at home. We feel we did that with seven of ten players hailing from the great garden state, as well as bringing in top out-of-state talent to complement this class.”
Adding many talented freshman to a team that returns two-time All-American Amirah Ali, as well as Second Team All-Big Ten selections in leading score Nneka Moneme and goalkeeper Meagan McClelland. A young core behind them is led by Allison Lynch (20 starts), Emily Harrigan (10 starts), and Julia Aronov (5 starts) makes it an exciting time for the program. Also part of the 2020 recruiting class is Syracuse transfer Abby Jonathan.
In addition, the 2021 recruiting class currently has seven players verbally committed and is led by Emily Mason. She was named the Gatorade Girls Soccer National Player of the Year on Wednesday after previously named the top player in New Jersey by multiple outlets. Mason led Hunterdon Central to a Group 4 Title and top ranking in the state per NJ.com, helping them to produce 16 shutouts while also scoring 9 goals and dishing out 3 assists. She dominated on both ends of the field in a 1-0 upset of Eastern in the state playoffs, then the top ranked team in the nation. Mason scored the winning goal while helping to hold the national powerhouse scoreless. The starting fullback on the US women’s national soccer under-20 team is a 5-star recruit and 3rd ranked prospect in the country per Top Drawer Soccer.
The 2021 recruiting class currently includes 4-star midfielders Kylie Daigle and Faith Slimmer, as well as 4-star forwards Gia Girman and Riley Tiernan. The class could potentially be ranked even higher than the 2020 group next spring if every current commit ultimately signs. All seven verbal commits are from New Jersey and play for PDA on the club circuit, so it’s likely that they will.
The key for O’Neill and his coaching staff is to continue to develop the talent they have on the roster and build great team chemistry as the two new talented recruiting classes join the program in the next two seasons. While no Rutgers team has broken through with a Big Ten title since joining the conference, the women’s soccer program appears to have the best chance to do so in the near future.
Hopefully, the group of talented players being assembled on the banks can ultimately help produce some of the best seasons in program history. Of course, that is setting the bar very high for a team that has been nationally ranked year over year and been the most successful program at Rutgers ever since O’Neill has been in charge. The goal has always been championships though, something they’ve never shied away from. If recruiting is any indication, that goal is certainly not an unrealistic one moving forward.