Is this the season the youthful University of Utah women's soccer finally plays its way into the NCAA College Cup?
Last year, their first in the Pac-12, the Utes were picked for 11th but surprised the experts by coming within a loss of their first postseason since 2006. Utah finished fifth, a place ahead of California, which did enjoy a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Now, fresh off of a home sweep of Washington and Washington State, the Utes (7-2-2, 2-1 Pac-12), a preseason choice to finish eighth, sit in fourth place with a pair of upcoming weekend home matches against No. 2 Stanford (9-1-1, 3-0) and California (9-3-0, 2-1).
Stanford, the defending NCAA and Pac-12 champion, and Utah have a 2 p.m. kickoff Friday at Ute Field. The Utes and Cal play Sunday at 1 p.m.
This season, Utah is 5-0 at home, including a 1-0 victory against No. 6 BYU, and has won six consecutive home games and 13 of their last 14 going back to last season. The goal allowed by the Utes in their 2-1 overtime victory against WSU was the first given up at home.
"We executed well; we put pressure on them and we were unlucky not to have another goal or two," Manning said after his Utes beat Washington 2-0. "I was really proud of that. The first half was one of our best performances of the year, no question."
And Utah is doing this without a senior on the roster.
Freshman goalkeeper Lindsey Luke, voted the Pac-12 Conference Women's Soccer Defensive Player of the Week for her effort, collected 17 saves during the weekend and posted her fourth shutout of the season. Meanwhile, five players have two goals or more, including junior Harley Spier and sophomore Kate Taylor with three each.
Aggies' defensive anchor
Winning the Western Athletic Conference Soccer Defensive Player of the Week is nothing new for Natalie Norris. The Utah State senior has now been awarded the prize three times, including once earlier this season.
Norris, a senior defender from Alta High was the anchor in a pair of scoreless double overtime ties at New Mexico State and at No. 18 Denver.
Norris played every minute as the Aggies (5-2-6) defended 36 shots in 220 minutes without allowing a goal.