Young Utes expect postseason this year
Reactions varied upon learning about the Utah soccer team's seven appearances on the Pac-12 Networks.
While coach Rich Manning was uncertain about its impact on his program, the players were more practical.
"It's exciting," said Avery Ford. "I'll have to do my hair before games."
The Utes can afford a bit of frivolity. Despite a terrible start to 2011, in their first season among the Pac-12 elite, they came within an overtime loss to UCLA of going to the NCAA Tournament. In fact, Utah's fifth-place finish (10-9-1 overall, 6-5 Pac-12) confounded the experts who predicted a place in the conference basement.
This year, nothing less than a spot in the postseason is acceptable.
In 2011, the Utes were led mostly with freshmen and sophomores. This year, youth rules again. There is not one senior on the Utah roster, and the team was predicted to finish eighth.
Despite the lack of seniors, the Utes return eight starters, more depth and greater degrees of athleticism and speed.
"It's a different kind of situation to be in," said Manning, who enters his 11th year at Utah. "We're just going to play and see what it looks like.
"We do have players who are talented. It depends if the light switch goes on."
Six of the returning eight play midfield or defensive positions, which is important. The Utes lost two centerbacks Lauren Porter and Lauren Dudley who were four-year starters.
The loss of forward Erin Dalley, a two-time Pac-12 Player of the Week, also means Manning will must also find some offense.
"We're actually doing a very good job in the back," junior midfielder Allie Wisner said. "We'll miss those girls, but we're definitely taking care of it."
Questions aside, the most important aspect to Utah's second year in the Pac-12 is experience. The Utes were not ready for the preseason in 2011, let alone the Pac-12, always strong nationally in women's soccer.
Defending champion Stanford visits Utah on Oct. 5.
"By this time last year we weren't ready," said Ford, named to the All-Pac-12 Freshman team. "Looking back and being so prepared now, wow, we weren't ready."
Utah State vs. Utah, Rio Tinto Stadium, 7 p.m.
BYU at UC Irvine, 8 p.m. (MDT)
UTEP at Utah Valley, 7:30 p.m.
Weber State at Tulsa, 6:35 p.m. (MDT)
UC Riverside at Southern Utah, 4 p.m.