The Rutgers women’s soccer opens Big Ten Tournament play on Thursday afternoon at 3 p.m. ET against Michigan State. The game will take place at Ohio State. The conference has changed the format for this season, as all 14 teams are competing. Regional play takes place on Thursday and this coming Sunday, with the winner of each Regional moving onto the semifinal round the following weekend.
Rutgers finished with a 6-2-3 record in Big Ten play, finishing in third place after a disappointing end to the regular season. Sandwiched between draws against Nebraska and Michigan, they lost a heartbreaker on the road at fourth place Wisconsin, conceding the only goal of the game in the 87th minute.
The Scarlet Knights still exceeded expectations after being picked to finish fourth in the preseason coaches poll, but after another win over eventual conference champion Penn State to begin league play, they fell short of getting over the hump for a regular season title once again. RU finished in second place in both the 2018 and 2019 seasons, while finishing tied with Ohio State for the second most points in Big Ten play this season. However, Ohio State played once less game and jumped into second place due to winning percentage despite not winning the head to head matchup between the two programs.
Since the Big Ten Tournament bracket is divided between the East and West divisions used in football, it was no. 1 seed Penn State and no. 4 seed Wisconsin that got opening round byes. This means no. 2 seed Ohio State and no. 3 seed Rutgers could face each other before even reaching the semifinal round.
With postseason play ahead, Rutgers still has an opportunity to make this a special season. They open the Big Ten Tournament against the Spartans, who are just 1-9-1 and who they beat 3-1 earlier this season. If the Scarlet Knights can advance, they will face the winner of Maryland (0-9-2) and Ohio State (6-1-3). RU tied the last place Terps and defeated the Buckeyes 2-1 with Sara Brocious delivering the game winning goal in the 55th minute.
Senior Amirah Ali has led Rutgers with 5 goals this season, senior Nneke Moneme has 2 goals and five other players have all scored once. Three freshmen have made a big impact this season as Sara Brocious, Sam Kroeger, and Becci Fluchel lead the team with 3 assists each. Brocious and Kroeger have each scored once. The trio have started every game this season.
Junior goalkeeper Meagan McClelland has a 0.73 goals against average along with 30 saves and four shutouts this season.
If Rutgers wants to make a deep run in both the Big Ten Tournament, as well as a potential ninth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, the veterans need to lead the way.
Amirah Ali is an offensive force, but hasn’t scored in the past four matches. Ali was recently named a finalist for the national Senior CLASS award, which “exemplifies excellence in the four Cs of community, classroom, character, and competition.” The two-time All-American is also a candidate for the prestigious 2020-21 MAC Hermann Trophy, the national player of the year award in college soccer. Getting Ali going offensively, as well as Nneke Moneme, could lead Rutgers to producing big results when it matters most.
Defensively, Rutgers was tied for the second fewest goals allowed this season as the play of McClelland and senior Gabby Provenzano has been key once again. The Scarlet Knights held all 11 opponents to single-digit shots on goal and seven to just single-digit shots overall.
Rutgers finished a seventh consecutive regular season ranked nationally and are no. 19 in the United Soccer Coaches Poll entering postseason play. They have endured a challenging year during the pandemic like every other athletic program across the country, but have continued to succeed at a high level as one of the best teams in the Big Ten once again.
Thursday’s opening round match against Michigan State will be streamed live on Big Ten Network+. To sign up for a Big Ten Network+ subscription, click here.
UPDATE: Rutgers defeated Michigan State 1-0 in double overtime as Amirah Ali scored the golden goal. Recap coming Thursday night.
We will cover the entire postseason run for Rutgers women’s soccer and below is the complete Big Ten Tournament bracket.