Rutgers Women’s Soccer Team Emerges onto National Stage

Rutgers Women’s Soccer Team Emerges onto National Stage

First season in Big Ten brings 7-1-1 start and No. 16 national ranking by Soccer America

Rutgers Women's Soccer shut out Vanderbilt for a 3-0 win, completing a weekend sweep to open 2014.

“We’re good people on and off the field. We work hard at practice, but we do what we’re supposed to do off the field and I think people really admire us for that.”
– Cassie Inacio, captain

The match had concluded, and the Rutgers women’s soccer team gathered on the field around head coach Mike O’Neill that Friday, Sept. 5, following a breakout 5-0 win at Princeton. There was the usual coach speak – O’Neill gave his praise for a hard-fought match and preached focus and humility in advance what lay ahead. 

And then came time to break the huddle.

“One, two, three: 30 Strong.”

It is a mantra used repeatedly by O’Neill, who in his 15th season at Rutgers and first at the helm has helped mold women’s soccer into one of the premier Scarlet Knight athletic programs.

“It’s the team concept,” O’Neill said. “The bottom line is, only 11 players can play. If you don’t have other players pushing them to be better or themselves to be better then there’s no form of competitiveness.

“What you have to do in the meantime is you have to push the players that are in front of you to create that culture of development. To us, that’s what 30 strong means – that the team is one.”

With that unity, the Scarlet Knights have again emerged onto the national stage in their first season as a member of the Big Ten Conference. The Princeton win was just one of seven amid a hot 7-1-1 start. In that time, Rutgers has found itself ranked No. 16 by Soccer America – the highest mark in two seasons – and defeated prestigious conference opponents such as Michigan, Michigan State and Iowa.

Holding a 3-1-1 record to open Big Ten play, the players have proven to themselves, and the rest of the country, that they can compete immediately in their new league.

“We’re all sisters and one big family,” said junior captain Erica Skroski. “We’re working for each other every single day and you can see it progressing and paying off in our first year in the Big Ten.”

But the Scarlet Knights’ foundation was forged well before the Big Ten Conference. Those same building blocks sent the program to seven NCAA Tournaments under previous head coach Glenn Crooks, including three in the last five seasons.

Crooks, who was head coach of the program for 14 years, had O’Neill alongside him every step of the way, as both shared similar visions for shaping the culture of the program.

A student-athlete would need more than talent to be a Scarlet Knight.

“No one is really worried about themselves, everyone just buys into what the coaches are asking of us,” said senior captain Cassie Inacio. “We’re good people on and off the field. We work hard at practice, but we do what we’re supposed to do off the field and I think people really admire us for that.”

Players like Skroski, Inacio, and others on the squad have made it easy for that culture to thrive this season. Yet, like the program’s foundation for success, that selflessness is not unique to this year’s team. 

“30 Strong” may have circled O’Neill that night at Princeton, the scoreboard directly behind emanating a 5-0 margin for the visiting team. But O’Neill knows as well as anybody, Rutgers women’s soccer has grown much larger than that huddle.

“They’ve created this culture of loving the game that allows them to be successful from game to game,” O’Neill said. “Their drive is for each other. Their drive is for the University. They have a drive from getting into the Big Ten. They want to be a team that has an impact on and off the field, and I think they have a lot of pride in our University, a lot of pride in our state, for their family, for each other.

“I think it’s all of that. And that’s where that hard work comes in – they realize they aren’t doing it for themselves. Being at Rutgers is about being a part of something that’s bigger than them, and I think they take a lot of pride in that.”