Despite injuries, Knights reach NCAA Tournament

 Erin Guthrie has a draft to get ready for. Her lifetime of soccer is set to reach a new milestone when she likely gets selected in the Jan. 5 Women's Professional Soccer draft.

But as Guthrie looks back on all the years she has spent in goal trying to prepare for that moment, it's the last four that stand out the most.

"I look back on these four years and I wouldn't have changed anything," Guthrie said. "The experience that I had at Rutgers was the best experience of my life. And it was because of all the people that I was involved with and all of the girls and the coaches, they just all made it so special."

Even with five starters on the sideline with season ending injuries, the Rutgers women's soccer team had goals that stretched far beyond the Big East quarterfinals and the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Though the team ultimately fell short of its lofty goals, both the coaching staff and the players recognize just how special this season was.

"When we look at this season it was really amazing," said head coach Glenn Crooks. "The coaching staff on this team has been involved with a lot of different teams, [associate head coach Mike O'Neill] and I in particular, over the course of our coaching lives. And we recognize that this is a very special group because of what they overcame."

The 2009 Scarlet Knights replaced a key group of injured veterans with a series of freshmen, some of which are coming off major injuries themselves and some walking wounded, who are headed to the operating room now that the season is over.

"There were a lot of silent heroes on this team," Crooks said. "We had a bunch of warriors on this team and a number of them played through some pretty painful injuries."

Those silent heroes led RU to its highest national ranking in school history.

The four weeks that the Knights were ranked in the nation's top-10 set a new standard for the entire women's soccer program.

"There was a lot of growing up this year not just on the field but off the field," Crooks said. "And it's really quite a group of players. They're likable, they work hard, they're good students and I think they made their University proud, not only with this past weekend but with this season as a whole."

As it has been over the past four years, the Knights' defense once again clearly proved to be one of the best in the nation.

This year, RU broke the school's 17-year record for least amount of goals allowed in a season by giving up only 11 over 22 games. The Knights also broke the RU single season goals-against-average mark with a .48 average.

"The defense definitely made my job a lot easier," said Guthrie, who was also goalkeeper during the previous record setting year in 2006 when the Knights recorded a 0.5 goals against average. "We just had such a solid back line this year, nothing got through them. No matter how highly touted the forwards were that were coming up against us or how well the other offense had previously done in other games, we were ready for them."

Guthrie said that mentality was never more evident than in the Knights' 2-0 first round win Friday over Duke.

"They were blocking so many shots that I didn't even know where they were coming from," Guthrie said. "I was expecting shots but they just weren't coming to me because they were being blocked. They just had this mentality that they were going to get a shut out and they weren't going to let any goals in, and that's how it was all year."

As Guthrie closes the final chapter in a storied four-year career at Rutgers, she, like her coach, sees this as one of the most unique teams she's ever played on.

"Everybody had a role on this team," Guthrie said. "Everyone just continued to work their butts off no matter what was thrown at us. With all the injuries and adversity, I think it just pulled us closer together and we never gave up, we just continued to get closer and stronger and I think that's what makes this team so special."

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