Category archive: Oklahoma State Cowboys
UConn women's basketball saw its winning streak end at 90 in December. But another college dynasty still has a streak going: Iowa wrestling.
The Hawkeyes' streak of 69 consecutive dual-meet victories will be on the line Sunday against the program's archrival in collegiate success: Oklahoma State. The No. 6-ranked Cowboys are host to No. 10 Iowa (ESPNU, 5:30 p.m. ET) at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Okla.
Oklahoma State has 34 NCAA team titles, while Iowa has 23, including the last three years in a row.
The Hawkeyes are chasing the Cowboys' dual-meet record; Oklahoma State won 76 consecutive duals from 1937-51. And the Cowboys program also has a pair of 69-match winning streaks to tie Iowa in second place, those coming from 1921-32 and 1996-99.
Iowa's current streak began three years ago -- Jan. 12, 2008 -- right after the Hawkeyes' last loss to Oklahoma State. The Cowboys lead the series 25-18-1.
Oklahoma State lost twice -- to Virginia Tech and Missouri -- in the NWCA/Cliff Keen National Duals last weekend in Cedar Falls, Iowa. The Hawkeyes didn't compete in that event. Iowa is 8-0 this season in dual meets, but finished fourth in the Midlands Championships in late December.
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.
For the third year in a row, Oklahoma State opened the NCAA tournament far from its campus in Stillwater. Two years ago, the Cowgirls took a trip to Clemson for the first two rounds. Last year, they traveled to UCLA. This fall, despite being ranked No. 7 in the final regular-season top 25 poll, the Big 12 regular-season champions found themselves saddled with a No. 4 seed and a trip to New Jersey.
In each case, the trip to the tournament was the team's longest of the season.
And for the third year in a row, Oklahoma State came away with a first-round win after beating Fairfield 1-0 on a damp night in the Garden State.
"We don't get many favors from the committee when it comes to sending us [to the tournament]," Oklahoma State coach Colin Carmichael said with a rueful smile. "We understand that there are some rules in place when it comes to geography, and there's not enough schools around us [the NCAA tries to place as many teams as possible within driving range of a host site, classified as a 400-mile bus trip]. But my personal opinion is seed 16 teams and let them host, and if they're not able to host, then go elsewhere.
"Twelve of the 16 seeded teams are hosting; we're one of the ones that aren't. Last time we were seeded, we went to Clemson. So it's not great for our kids, and the ones I really feel for are the kids' parents. Most of them can't afford to travel like this, and that makes it tough. But you know, we do understand there's a formula in place, and we suck it up and deal with it."
Fairfield wasn't about to make the trip a pleasant one. The MAAC champions welcomed the Cowgirls to the I-95 corridor by offering about as much personal space as rush-hour drivers on the Jersey Turnpike. For much of the opening 45 minutes, Stags sophomore Nicole Cavallaro looked like the most dynamic offensive presence on the field, and Oklahoma State, with the nation's most prolific offense, looked out of sync.
"First half, as an attacking force, we just weren't very good," Carmichael said. "You have to give Fairfield credit for that; they disrupted our rhythm and did a good job of not allowing us to play."
Throw in a wet field on which slips were easier to string together than passes, and the 0-0 halftime score was at least as kind, if not kinder, to the favorite as the underdog. But when the Cowgirls finally began to string together passes early in the second half, culminating in Siera Strawser's goal off assists from Kasey Langdon and Yolanda Odenyo in the 54th minute, Oklahoma State had the goal it needed.
And if life on the road has taught the Cowgirls anything, it's that you've got to pack a defense in the postseason.
"I thought our two center backs were immense," Carmichael said of Melinda Mercado and Jessica Jarrell. "I thought they really did a good job. I mean, Fairfield created maybe three or four chances the whole game, and that's a credit to our back and our goalkeeper. They did a good job of controlling the [18-yard box].
It wasn't pretty, but as Carmichael told his team after the win while relaying news of conference peer Colorado's stunning loss against South Dakota State, it could have been worse. Not that this team needed a reminder. It's been here before. Wherever here is.