College Soccer

No. 9 Rutgers Women’s Soccer Clinches College Cup Berth With 7-6 PK Win At No. 1 Virginia

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (Nov. 27, 2015) BY: Tom Luicci –  The greatest season in Rutgers women’s soccer history just got even better.

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Photo is Courtesy of Kelsey Grant and Rutgers Athletics

Able to overcome missing their first two penalty kicks after 110 minutes of scoreless play, the Scarlet Knights came back today to beat No. 1-ranked Virginia after nine rounds of penalty kicks, 7-6, at Klockner Stadium to earn the program’s first Final Four appearance.

No. 9-ranked Rutgers (19-3-3) will face the winner of Sunday’s Penn State-West Virginia game next Friday in the College Cup at Cary, N.C.

The Scarlet Knights 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 had a commanding 8-2 advantage on corner kicks but could not solve a defense led by senior center backs Erica Skroski and Brianne Reed and star goalkeeper Casey Murphy in being blanked for the first time all year.

The shutout by the Scarlet Knights was a school-record 19th. It’s the first time Rutgers has ever 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 nearly undid its stellar defensive performance after 90 minutes of regulation and two 10-minute overtime sessions when Skroski and Colby Ciarrocca missed the first two penalty kicks, putting the Scarlet Knights in a quick 2-0 hole in the best of five session.

But Murphy made her penalty kick, saved Virginia’s third kick, then saw the Cavaliers’ Makenzy Doniak hit the cross bar in round five when she could have won it for the ACC school.

“When she hit the cross bar I thought to myself `this is a sign for us,’ ” said Murphy.

Rutgers made its next seven kicks after missing the first two, including all four in the sudden death session of the penalty kick stage. When Murphy dove right – admitting she guessed on the play – to stop Tina Iordanou’s penalty kick, the Scarlet Knights were Final Four-bound.

“Honestly, I didn’t think once that we were going to lose this game,” said Murphy. “I just kept talking to myself, reminding myself why we were here. People probably though I was crazy. All I kept saying was `College Cup. College Cup.’ ”

Of her final save, Murphy said “there was nothing that made me go that way. I just went that way. Luckily I was able to save it.”

Murphy’s save wound up as the game-deciding moment because junior Tori Prager converted made the final Rutgers PK attempt.

The Final Four appearance is the first by a Rutgers team since the women’s basketball team reached that event in 2007.

It’s also the second straight impressive performance by the Scarlet Knights, since it followed on the heels a 4-0 victory last game against No. 18 Connecticut. Rutgers, which leads the nation in shutouts and goals-against average, has yet to allow a goal in four NCAA Tournament games.

“The amazing thing is I still think we could have played better,” said Reed. “We neutralized one of the best offenses in the country and they were a great team. We just stuck together and we knew what we had to do and weren’t going to let them break us.

“They were coming at us non-stop but we had the solution to every problem. We had cover, we had pressure, we had things we didn’t even need. It just worked out for us.”

Head coach Mike O’Neill said the victory was a continuation of fulfilling preseason goals set by this group, which already has the most victories and shutouts in school history. Taking down a No. 1 team and the Final Four can now be added to that list.

“It’s big. This is where we want to be. This is where we want the Rutgers women’s soccer program to be every year – we want to be competing for championships,” O’Neill said. “I know that the goal of the team and the goal of the seniors when they came here is they wanted to make sure by the time they left that this program was one of the top five programs in the country. That’s the way they wanted to leave it and that’s the expectation and that’s where they are.”

But even for a team that set all of this as its goals it will take a little time getting used to.

“I can’t even explain how I feel right now,” said Reed, a First Team All-Big Ten selection. “I’m going to wait until the bus ride home to pinch myself.”

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