The Rutgers women’s soccer team kicks off the Big Ten only spring season on Friday at noon against conference favorite Penn State. Due to the weather, the game will played off campus at the Iron Peak Sports & Events facility in Hillsborough, N.J. Having the season opener played six months later than usual in an indoor facility away from campus against its biggest rival is a glaring reminder of how unusual things still are due to the global pandemic COVID-19.
The Big Ten schedule wasn’t even announced until late January after the team returned from winter break. Rutgers is scheduled to play 11 conference games through April 3rd. As of now, there is a Wild Card Weekend planned between April 8-11, followed by the Big Ten Tournament on April 15-18, which could have a modified format. There is also hope that there will be an NCAA Tournament at the end of the spring season.
“We found out about the schedule release right before training last week all together as a team. Coach Mike pulled out the paper with the lineup of the dates of our games, and as he read them out loud to us you could feel energy rising,” said junior midfielder Nicole Binkley. “Although we constantly bring high energy to training every day, that day the intensity and competitiveness was at a level like no other. All of the preparation and work we put in day after day through the Fall and Winter with no schedule or season in sight, was finally seeing a locked in date with our first conference game.”
“In times like this we are so grateful to be having a season. This past year has been extremely difficult as we all know in our own way, and soccer provides us an escape. The Rutgers staff and medical professionals have worked endlessly to provide our sports with a safe way to continue what we love doing, and we cannot thank them enough,” said Shea Holland.
The Scarlet Knights were picked to finish fourth out of 14 teams in the Big Ten preseason coaches poll, despite returning 16 letterwinners, adding the only nationally ranked top ten recruiting class in the conference, as well as back to back second place finishes the past two seasons. They are led by the three players named to the Big Ten preseason Watch List, Amirah Ali, Nneke Moneme and Meagan McClelland.
Ali is a two-time All-American and three-time All-Big Ten selection. She was named to the MAC Hermann Trophy Watchlist for the second straight season and is currently tied for sixth in program history for goals scored and eighth all-time in total points. The senior has a chance to move up near the top in both categories before her career is over, as Ali intends to return next fall as this spring season doesn’t count against eligibility.
Moneme had a breakout 2019 campaign, leading Rutgers with 11 goals and 23 points, earning her All-Big Ten Second Team honors. Having both Moneme and Ali the top of the Rutgers formation give this team a potent scoring duo.
McClelland had the unenviable task of replacing Rutgers legend Casey Murphy in goal, but she has put together a sterling career in her own right so far. She was the 2018 Big Ten Freshman of the Year while also making All-Big Ten Third team, before being named a Second Team selection in 2019. McClelland has produced 20 shutouts in 41 career games along with a 0.64 goals allowed average and 81.1% save percentage.
Ali and McClelland are captains along with Binkley, Holland and Gabby Provenzano.
Other key returnees are Allison Lynch (20 starts) and Emily Harrigan (10 starts).
The freshman class was ranked eighth nationally in the 2020 recruiting cycle and includes Sara Brocious, Faith Dobosiewicz, Becci Fluchel, Abby Jonathan, Samantha Kroeger, Julianne Leskaus- kas, Allison Lowrey, Emma Misal, Giana Romano, and Emily Sapienza. Several are expected to play key roles this season.
A key addition to the defense is Syracuse transfer Abby Jonathan.
After an 15-4-2 campaign and 8-2-1 second place finish in Big Ten play in the fall of 2019, the Scarlet Knights are excited to be back on the pitch this Friday, even if snow is on the ground and they’re playing on indoor turf. They’ve planned for the adjustment having trained some inside the Rutgers practice bubble and the indoor facility in Hillsborough as well.
For a program that’s made the NCAA Tournament for eight consecutive seasons, setting their sights on winning a Big Ten title and making a deep postseason run will always be the goal. They’ll begin this new campaign against its rival and conference favorite Penn State, who they defeated last season 3-2 in double overtime behind a game winning penalty kick by Amirah Ali. We will have a game recap this weekend and continued coverage on the Rutgers women’s soccer team the entire season.
Update: Rutgers defeats Penn State 3-2, recap here.