The Rutgers women’s soccer team has made an immediate impact in its first season as a member of the Big Ten Conference.
Is it beginner’s luck? Probably not.
The Scarlet Knights have posted a 10-1-1 record to start the season – the second-best start in school history – while earning No. 14 ranking in the latest NSCAA Division I Top 25. Along the way, Rutgers has knocked off the top two programs in the league – Penn State and Michigan.
Not too shabby for the Big Ten first-timers, but the foundation for this year’s success has been building for a long time. Rutgers returned eight starters from last year’s squad that placed third in the American Athletic Conference and advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
Even with head coach George Crooks retiring after last season, the Knights haven’t missed a beat as longtime assistant Mike O’Neill took the reins.
Defense has been an integral part of Rutgers’ stellar season. The Knights lead the nation in save percentage (.907) behind freshman goalkeeper Casey Murphy and rank fifth nationally in goals against average (0.33).
After pulling off a 1-0 upset of then-No. 6 Penn State last weekend (their first top 10 win since 2008), the Knights stretched their shutout streak to four games – not allowing a goal in the last 434:49 minutes of play. Overall, RU has posted nine shutouts, which ranks second in the Big Ten.
This will be another crucial weekend for the Knights as they host Illinois on Friday and Northwestern on Sunday. Rutgers is tied with Wisconsin for third place behind Penn State and Michigan in the league standings, and can most likely gain ground in the conference because the Nittany Lions and Wolverines will face each other Thursday. RU handed Penn State and Michigan their only losses in league play this season.
Rutgers, which has just one loss in its last 17 matches dating back to last season, has won four consecutive games and is unbeaten in its last seven. With two more wins, this year’s team can tie the program’s longest winning streak of six games (1985, 1990, 1996, 2005).
AROUND THE NATION
No. 11 Penn State looks to get back on the winning track at No. 24 Michigan in a clash of the top two squads in the Big Ten standings. The Nittany Lions (12-2) are off to their best start since 2005 behind a balanced offensive attack that ranks 11th nationally in scoring with 2.67 goals per game. Michigan, which won last year’s contest between the two squads, 1-0, is led by Nicky Waldeck, who tops the team with 24 points, including 14 (6 goals, 2 assists) in the last four games.
No. 25 Georgetown meets St. John’s Thursday in Queens, N.Y., as the Hoyas look to extend their seven-game unbeaten streak (6-0-1). The Hoyas and St. John’s are in a three-way tie for first place in the BIG EAST standings with DePaul – each are 4-0-1 in league play. Georgetown senior Daphne Corboz, the school’s all-time leading scorer, continues to pace the Hoyas and the conference with 30 points, including 16 assists. The Red Storm is off to their best-ever league start and is riding a six-game unbeaten streak into the match. St. John’s has allowed just two goals during the six-game stretch.
After winning three consecutive Pac-12 contests, including two victories over ranked opponents, Washington cracked the Top 25 rankings at No. 2. The Huskies have the weekend off before a Monday contest against winless Oregon State, but are currently in a tie for third place in the league standings behind top five foes UCLA and Stanford.
SIDEKICKS: Charlotte enters the weekend in second place in the Conference USA standings behind North Texas. The 49ers have won three straight games and six of their last eight heading into Saturday’s contest against Old Dominion … Winthrop will look to extend its unbeaten streak to five games at Campbell Saturday after evening its record at 6-6-1 with a win over Charleston Southern on Wednesday. Senior Krystyna Freda paces the Eagles with 14 goals and leads Division I women’s soccer with 1.27 goals per game … Northeastern – the nation’s top team in goals against average (0.253) – surrendered its first goal in 514 minutes in a 1-0 loss at Hofstra last weekend … Florida Gulf Coast sophomore Tabby Tindell tied the school record with her 15th goal of the season in her team’s victory over Lipscomb on Sunday. Tindell already owns the career goals record at FGCU with 30. She tops the Atlantic Sun Conference in scoring with 15 goals in 15 games. The Eagles are unbeaten in A-Sun play with a 5-0 record.
Amy Farnum Patronis covers Women's Division I College Soccer for College Soccer News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org