The women’s soccer team (13-2-2, 5-0-1 Ivy League) beat No. 24 Rutgers University (13-5-2, 5-3-2 Big Ten) 1-0 Saturday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Piscataway, N.J.
A late goal from a header by forward Ava Seelenfreund ’23.5 broke a 0-0 tie in the 81st minute, allowing the Bears advance to the second round of the tournament where they will face the University of California, Irvine.
The result marks an improvement on Brown's performance in the NCAA Tournament last year, in which the Bears suffered a heartbreaking first-round loss to St. John’s University. While that game remained scoreless until the Red Storm scored a 99th minute game-ending goal in overtime, this year the Bears were able to prevail in a low-scoring contest and net a late goal of their own.
"This win means a lot to this team," Head Coach Kia McNeill said in a statement to Brown Athletics. "I've said all season that this team can play with anyone in the country. I think we had a tremendous Ivy League run to make it here to the postseason.”
The victory “solidifies our place in the tournament as a serious competitor and builds our confidence for future rounds,” forward and midfielder Sheyenne Allen ’23 wrote in a message to The Herald.
The last time Bruno advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament was in 2019 when the Bears fell to top-seeded Florida State University. Prior to 2019, Brown last advanced to the second round in 1994.
Taking on a struggling Scarlet Knights squad that had lost three straight games entering Saturday’s contest, the Bears wasted no time going on the offensive. In the first 12 minutes of play, Brown fired off six shots to Rutgers’ zero. But the Scarlet Knights responded quickly, limiting Bruno’s attempts and putting pressure on the Bears’ defense. For the remainder of the 90 minutes, Rutgers recorded 10 shot attempts to Brown’s nine. Over the course of the game as a whole, the Bears outshot the Scarlet Knights 15-10, including a slight 4-3 advantage in shots on goal.
Both sides’ offenses had performed well prior to the tournament matchup — Rutgers led the Big Ten in average scoring before Saturday’s game, averaging 2.2 goals a game, while Brown averaged three goals per game. But the match was a low-scoring affair all throughout. Neither side was able to get on the board for the game’s first 80 minutes, with goalkeepers Bella Schopp ’26 and Meagan McClelland each contributing three saves for their respective defenses.
In the 81st minute, the Bears finally found a way to break through the Scarlet Knights’ defense. Driving down the field, forward Brittany Raphino ’23 found Seelenfreund, who fired a pass to forward and midfielder Kira Maguire ’24. But Maguire quickly curved a lofted ball back to Seelenfreund, catching McClelland off balance and allowing Seelenfreund to head the ball into the net for the decisive score. Bruno’s defense held firm for the remaining 10 minutes of the game, and a free-kick save by Schopp in the game’s final minute secured Bruno the victory.
For Allen, the key to the game was “just staying locked in defensively,” she wrote. “We had so many chances in the offense, so we knew something was coming (and) we just had to remain focused to prevent Rutgers’ chances from connecting as it’d be harder for us to (win) the game once down a goal.”
McNeill emphasized the importance of Seelenfreund’s score to the team’s victory. “We played a great Big Ten team … today, but I thought we really took it to them and Ava had a great goal there in the end,” she said to Brown Athletics.
But Seelenfreund considered her goal to be part of a broader team effort. “The whole game, we had a lot of opportunities and if one of them hadn't gone in we would have been really upset today, so that was a team goal,” she said to Brown Athletics.
As the Bears look to advance further in the tournament, they will attempt to take advantage of more scoring opportunities early in the game, according to Allen.
“The Rutgers game could’ve gone completely differently had we finished the multiple chances that were apparent early on, and if we focus on that we can have much more success and a run in the tournament,” Allen wrote. “UC Irvine is going to be a great opponent, so if we continue to take care of things defensively and put away our early opportunities,” the team will have a strong chance of advancing to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen.
After taking down Rutgers, Brown will face UC Irvine Friday at 3 p.m. The Anteaters also upset a seeded team on the road, beating the fourth-seeded University of Southern California. The game will be hosted by the University of Alabama, the top seed in Brown’s bracket, and can be streamed live on ESPN+.
Peter Swope is the section editor of Sports. He also has written stories for University News. Peter is a junior from New Jersey studying history.