December 23, 2015
THE YEAR'S BEST -- NO. 8
Rutgers women surprise, reach Division I Final Four
When the Big Ten unveiled its preseason women's poll, Rutgers University was tied with Wisconsin for third place.
|The Rutgers women's team celebrates upsetting Virginia in the NCAA Division I semifinals.
Photo by Kelsey Grant/Rutgers SID
All in all, not too shabby.
But no one would predict the Scarlet Knights would wind up tied for third place in the NCAA Division I tournament.
Rutgers (19-4-3) finished fourth in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America coaches poll, the program's best finish in its history.
For their accomplishment, the Scarlet Knights' achievement was selected as the No. 8 story of the year by BigAppleSoccer.com.
“They took 2014, and they had a good year in 2014, but they felt they could accomplish more,” head coach Mike O’Neill said. “The mentality when they came back, you could see was different. They were ready to go.
“They set goals, accomplished goals. We achieved more on the field as a team and individually than ever before. Every day they came out and they just wanted to get better. And that environment is so important for success. That’s the Rutgers women’s soccer program. That’s the expectation from player to player. That’s the expectation from coach to player, and also player the coach. If you want to be a part of this program, you’ve got to bring your best.”
The postseason laurels were plentiful and a record two players– defender Erica Skroski and goalkeeper Casey Murphy – were named NSCAA All-Americans. On the NSCAA All-Region list, Skroski and Murphy were joined by Brianne Reed, who also won the Senior CLASS Award, and Colby Ciarrocca.
The Scarlet Knights hit their high point when they stunned top-ranked Virginia in the quarterfinals in Charlottesville, Va. in a penalty-kick shootout. Rutgers missed its first two penalties in the shootout and rallied to stun the Cavaliers, 7-6, to earn the program's first Final Four appearance in the NCAA Division I tournament Friday.
They achieved the latest program first with their trademark defense, suffocating a Cavaliers team that came in No. 2 nationally in goals per game. Virginia (19-1-3) outshot Rutgers, 12-6, and held an 8-2 advantage on corner kicks but could not solve a defense led by senior center backs Erica Skroski and Brianne Reed and Murphy as the Cavaliers were blanked for the first time this season.
The shutout by the Scarlet Knights was a school-record 19th. It was the first time Rutgers has defeated the nation's top-ranked team.
"Where do I rank this defensive performance on a scale of one to 10? An 11," said Skroski, the Big Ten defender of the year. "We knew what we had to do. At times they had a lot of the possession. But we've faced them all three of my years here before this, so we knew what they wanted to do. They're an amazing team. But we stayed with them and stayed together."
Rutgers came back down to earth on Dec. 4, when it lost to then sixth-ranked Penn State, also a Big Ten side, in the semifinals in Cary, N.C., 2-0. Sophomore Frannie Crouse (24th minute) and freshman Kaleigh Riehl (79th) scored for Penn State, which went on to defeat Duke, 1-0, for the national championship two days later.
“Coming here four years ago, I never would have imagined being a part of a program that could make it to this level so I am upset about the result," Reed said. "But I think we need to take a step back and realize where we are. We brought this program to the Final Four and this is a new standard for Rutgers and I am so proud to be a part of this team.”
Thursday: Story. No. 7