The Utah women’s soccer team is coming from a successful 2013 campaign, but head coach Rich Manning and company are ready to prove that they’re no one-hit wonder in the Pac-12.
The Utes made tremendous strides in 2013, making it to the first round of the NCAA tournament after finishing the season with an overall record of 10-5-6, including a 6-3-2 record in the rigorous Pac-12. That record was also comprised of an undefeated 7-0-4 record at home.
For a team that finished 8-8-3 with only three conference victories the previous year, these were some impressive improvements. In 2014, however, the Utes won’t be satisfied with a winning conference record and a one-and-done trip to the NCAAs. They want to show the Pac-12, and the rest of the country for that matter, that they are a team to be reckoned with in the West.
Utah will be returning nine starters from its 2013 squad, including second team All-Pac-12 goalkeeper Lindsey Luke, senior midfielder Avery Jenkins and senior forward Ashton Hall.
Hall, a 5-foot-9-inch forward out of Highlands Ranch, Colo., knows it’s going to take a full team effort to not only repeat what they achieved last season, but to exceed their heightened expectations.
“Now that we’re an older team, I think we’re really going to need the contributions and dedication of the younger players because we have the base and experience from our upperclassman,” Hall said. “I’m hoping that the [younger players] come in and understand how much of a difference it is from just club or high school.”
With nine newcomers joining the already experienced Utah squad this offseason, it’s going to be up to Hall and her fellow seniors to set the winning attitude and example for the underclassmen to follow.
The winning mentality must also be echoed by the Utes’ coaching staff. Manning is entering his 13th year at the helm of the women’s soccer program and is ready to lead his team to new heights in 2014.
“I think we’re just going to pick up where we left off last year, where we have a chance to win against anybody,” Manning said. “We expect to win, and we’re a hard team to beat. We want to win the Pac-12 championship, and we want to go to the NCAA championships as well. That has been the goal since we got accepted into the league … I expect that with the experience we gained last year, we will continue pursuing that.”
Some of that experience came in the form of difficult losses, including a 1-0 overtime defeat to Texas A&M; in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, but Manning knew that even such a painful loss would pay dividends for his team.
“We played a top 10 team at their place in front of thousands of people, and we took them down to the wire. I think that actually built up a little confidence for us that we can hang with these teams in the toughest environments,” Manning said. “I think the most important thing is to stay confident. We have to work hard and work together and keep getting better at the game. I don’t think we will be satisfied with having one particularly good season, nor do we think that that’s the ceiling of how high we can go.”
One player who is definitely not satisfied with one good season is Jenkins, who is looking forward to ending her career at Utah on a high note and is eager to make her mark on the field against every opponent this season. She knows anything less than another NCAA Tournament berth will be marked as a failure.
“We have pretty much the same team, so we know what to expect,” Jenkins said. “I would be disappointed if we didn’t go as far or further in the tournament. I think it’s just a mental game. We have so much skill on the team, I think mentally we just need to come in really tough and know every game isn’t going to be super smooth, and we just take what is given to us and we handle it as best we can.”
The first step in the Utes’ journey to return to the NCAA tournament will take place in Tulsa, Okla., as the Utes take on Oral Roberts in their first game of the season on August 22. The first home game of the season will pit the Utes against Boise State on August 29 at Ute Field where the women’s soccer team has compiled an astounding 21-4-4 record since joining the Pac-12 conference in 2011.
It was recently announced that nine Utah women’s soccer matches will be broadcasted nationally on the Pac-12 Networks, including the Utes’ home match against bitter rival BYU. Other notable televised games include matches versus nine other Pac-12 opponents.