Category archive: Rutgers Scarlet Knights
The celebration could begin without her. A stroke of coaching genius and a good tape job made sure it would last.
Playing for the first time in more than a month because of a partially torn hamstring, Keppler came on as a second-half substitute and scored her first career goal with four minutes to play against the Scarlet Knights. When she came on with about 20 minutes to play, it also marked, by her account, her first game action as a forward since she was about 9 years old. A midfielder in high school and club soccer, she began her West Virginia career by moving to center back before the injury.
"Honest to God, I'm not a forward," Keppler offered, a touch of amazement at what had just transpired still in her voice. But in the midst of a season in which West Virginia has started 10 freshmen and sophomores at various times and had scored just 19 goals in 19 games before Sunday's quarterfinal, coach Nikki Izzo-Brown had something else in mind when it became evident that Keppler might be able to provide 15 or 20 minutes of energy off the bench.
"What she brings is she brings speed, strength and obviously she can strike a ball," Izzo-Brown said. "Obviously, her qualities were something that I thought would just mix it up and something that we don't have up top and that could really help us.
"And obviously, for Keppler to finish that was brilliant. And she has it in her. She might claim that she only plays defense, but we've seen her, in training, dribble through our whole team and finish. It wasn't anything shocking to me."
Keppler's ongoing battle with the balky hamstring -- she played six minutes against South Florida at the end of September, two weeks after the initial injury, only to suffer another setback -- had been an apt metaphor for a team's season of frustration. West Virginia had wins against Penn State, Tennessee, Marquette and St. John's but still found itself too close to the NCAA tournament bubble for comfort entering the conference tournament.
Sunday's win ought to secure at least an at-large bid. And perhaps Keppler's perseverance was again a metaphor.
• A quick return to Portland: It's a legacy of former Pilots coach Clive Charles that the Pilots play attractive, technical soccer, something that lives on through current coach Garrett Smith. But the speed with which they do it this season -- particularly down the flanks -- is striking to watch. And it's something Smith said compares favorably to even the 2005 undefeated national championship team.
"I think our overall team speed may be a little bit better," Smith said last week. "When you start looking from Michelle Enyeart, just raw, athletic speed that can get by anybody at any time and create a bunch [of opportunities], to Kendra Chandhoke out wide right to Kendall Johnson wide left -- and the two players sitting in behind those two [Elli Reed and Jessica Tsao] aren't slow, either."
It also says all you need to know about the personal responsibility inherent in the program's philosophy that Enyeart and Sophie Schmidt came to Smith early in the season with the suggestion they switch positions -- Enyeart to forward and Schmidt to attacking midfielder -- and that Smith trusted two of his co-captains enough to do it.
Sometimes neither words nor pictures tell a story as well as sound.
A 2-1 overtime win against DePaul may or may not help save a season left teetering by a devastating injury to junior forward Ashley Jones. But whatever happens in the weeks ahead, what happened after Jones' injury Sunday told a story of this team and this season.
"For Ash Jones, period," Rutgers coach Glenn Crooks said of the day's work. "End of story; they did it for Ashley."
Jones was the player who had picked up the defensively gifted Scarlet Knights after season-ending injuries knocked out three top forwards -- Caycie Gusman, Merissa Smith and Jonelle Filigno -- and midfielder Gina DeMaio, second all-time in assists at Rutgers. A natural midfielder with four goals in 42 career games entering the season, Jones led the team with eight through 14 games this season. That includes the winner against Penn State in September, a result that launched the team on its ascent to No. 10 in the polls.
But with 22 minutes, 36 seconds remaining in the first half of a physical game Sunday that appeared to get away from referee Giany Barbat on both ends, Jones went down following a collision in front of the DePaul goal. Play was halted for 28 minutes while medical personnel attended to her and eventually took her from the field in an ambulance. No official diagnosis was available immediately after the game, but it was later confirmed that Jones suffered two compound fractures -- tibia and fibula -- and underwent surgery Sunday night.
Trailing 1-0 at the time of the injury, Rutgers managed to make it into halftime without surrendering anything more on the scoreboard but also without showing much attacking presence of its own. In the locker room at halftime, Crooks tried to avoid letting an emotional team lose itself.
"The only thing that happened in there was I told them what Ashley told me," Crooks said. "And that was the only discussion about Ashley, and that was all they needed to hear. And we kept the tactics very simple. Normally I'll go in with three things on the attacking side, three things on the defensive side. I just said two things; I had to keep it simple. [Assistant coach Karina LeBlanc] made a good point. She said, 'They're so emotional; they're not even going to hear what you say.'"
Without Jones, one of the Big East's fastest players, the Scarlet Knights struggled for the remainder of the game to get the ball wide, but as the second half began, they nonetheless gradually began to control the flow of play. A penalty kick conversion from Jennifer Anzivino in the 58th minute off a DePaul hand ball tied the game, and with just more than five minutes remaining in the overtime session, Lancos laced her winner off a free kick.
Now the Scarlet Knights will have to go about the work of constructing a viable offense without arguably their five best attacking talents. Since beating Marquette last week, they've scored just two goals in the past three games.
But with every reason to give up on this day, Rutgers instead heeded the message Jones gave her coach before leaving the field.
In no uncertain terms, she told him to make sure they won the game.
For an answer, all you had to do was listen for the roar.
Bracket willing, this hopefully wasn't a preview of anything short of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA tournament (three years after the two teams played a first-round game in one of the least fair draws in recent memory). There are reasons to believe so for both the winner and loser.
For USC, the win puts a punctuation mark on a six-game winning streak spanning the past three weekends. The streak, which also includes road wins against Oklahoma State and Oklahoma (the latter more impressive after the Sooners took out Texas A&M on Sunday), eases the sting of a 1-3-0 start that dropped the Women of Troy from No. 8 in the preseason to out of the Top 25.
Adjusting to life after Amy Rodriguez and Ashley Nick was always going to be a challenge, and losing junior Ashli Sandoval, last season's leading point-getter, to a torn ACL after five games this fall presented yet another challenge. But with seven goals from six players in the past four games, they're finding ways to get the ball in the back of the net as Pac-10 play approaches.
On the other side, the loss ended a fantastic run for the Broncos that included wins at Georgetown, against Colorado on a neutral field and at home against Notre Dame and Purdue. But it also marked the third game in a row on the field for Amanda Poach.
Like Jordan Angeli, Poach missed the past two seasons, first with an ACL injury and last year with a hip injury. In the first practice this season, she tore cartilage in her knee and needed to have 80 to 90 percent of her meniscus removed. She hadn't resumed practicing when I talked to Santa Clara coach Jerry Smith almost four weeks ago, still bothered by pain in the knee, and he made it clear that there was a very real chance she wouldn't ever be able to get back on the field.
He was also clear about exactly how much of a loss that would have been.
"Jordan's our best leader; Amanda's our most talented player," Smith said. "And that's not close. Amanda is so talented. She ranks right up there with the most talented kids I've ever coached. She is super, super talented. Healthy, I would put everything I had on her making the full national team, let alone a pro league."
Obviously, it's going to take some time for Poach, who played for the United States in the 2006 Under-20 World Cup, to get back up to speed. She played just 25 minutes against USC and hasn't hit 50 minutes in her first three appearances. But come November, she'll be nice to have.
"If we've got the team we have with Jordan and Amanda, we could probably beat anybody," Smith said. "Doesn't mean we're the best team; we just can beat anybody."
Rutgers 1, Villanova 1
Despite losing four key players to season-ending injuries already this season, and playing Sunday night without regular starter Rheanne Sleiman (ankle injury), Rutgers is 8-1-2 overall this season, ranked No. 17 in the nation and tied with St. John's for the second-best record in the Big East at 2-0-1, behind only Notre Dame.
So you might have thought Scarlet Knights coach Glenn Crooks would have been relatively content with the draw against Villanova, earned on Karla Schacher's second-half equalizer from a very tough angle. And while Crooks did express satisfaction with how the team has dealt with its adversity, his agitation at the result of the day offered a glimpse at why the team has weathered the ills.
As Crooks put it: "You can look at our record and say, 'Yeah, great, we're ranked, we're in pretty good position in the Big East.' But for us, we've got to deal with those moments better. There's moments in every match -- and we lost in San Diego because we didn't deal with those moments very well and we tied tonight because we didn't deal with those moments very well."
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.