PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- For 110 minutes in Sunday's second-round game between Rutgers and No. 4 seed Oklahoma State, a steady, chilling wind was the only thing capable of rippling the back of the nets at Yurcak Field. Scarlet Knights goalkeeper Erin Guthrie found herself standing alone on her line in the teeth of the wind, 12 yards of grass and her reflexes were all that separated her team from the end of its season.
And if that sounds like a miserable amount of pressure, you must not be a keeper.
"If you're confident, it's a phenomenal experience," said Rutgers assistant coach Katrina LeBlanc, who has spent the past decade minding the net with the Canadian national team. "I knew, going in, Erin was confident. We'd worked on that kind of stuff, and she's just a big-time keeper. And in situations like that, where she wants to be in it -- if you're a goalkeeper and you want to be in that situation, it's phenomenal.
"I looked at her before, and I was like, 'She's going to get it done.'"
After Oklahoma State's Siera Stawser and Rutgers' Jenifer Anzivino each connected in the first round of penalty kicks following a 0-0 draw through regulation and two overtime periods, Guthrie watched Bridget Miller line up for her kick. The Oklahoma State player took an extra second to spot the ball and then drove it hard toward the right side, only to watch a diving Guthrie knock it off the post. After another miss wide right for the Cowgirls and three conversions for Rutgers from Kristie Lang, Gina DeMaio and Becky Wise, Guthrie's team had its unlikely Sweet 16 trip with the 4-2 win.
"She kind of gave it away with where she was standing and stuff," Guthrie said of the crucial save. "So I knew from the second she kicked it where she was going."
Unlike the moment in the 2006 World Cup when Germany's Jens Lehman famously consulted a crib sheet on the tendencies of Argentina's players during a penalty shootout, Guthrie's method is the more familiar one for teams without massive scouting budgets. Oklahoma State and Rutgers had never met before Sunday's game, leaving little familiarity for all involved as to the minutia of matters such as individual penalty patterns.
"It helps to have knowledge, but again, the great players will react from a [goalkeeper's perspective]," LeBlanc said. "What we try to do is when we practice as a team, not think of what you think they're going to do. Rather, react or look at the tendencies of how they're positioning and where they're starting up and stuff like that.
"The one she had a save on, I think from practice, she kind of knew where that person was going."
Only a junior, Guthrie's shutout against the Cowgirls left her just one shy of the program's career record of 34. She's been critical to the success of a team hit hard this season by injuries and national team commitments for three of its five Canadians. As good as she was from the start, earning second-team freshman All-American honors in 2006, she's also come a long way from the keeper who was on the other end of a 4-2 shootout result against Boston College in the second round of the NCAA tournament that season.
"She's grown in everything, to be honest with you," LeBlanc said. "The goalkeepers come out before everyone at practice and we'll be the last to leave practice. And that's the mentality -- because the games are the easy parts. You don't want to see something you've never seen before."
Which makes it perfectly easy to understand coach Glenn Crooks' succinct summation.
"We knew with Guthrie in goal [for the shootout], the game was in hand," Crooks said.