Utah soccer team ready to take on A&M
Utah's women's soccer team is finally back in postseason play after a six-year absence, but just qualifying for the women's NCAA soccer tournament isn't enough the Utes would like to cause a little havoc.
They'll get their chance on Friday when they travel to No. 13 Texas A&M for a 6 p.m. match.
The Utes don't mind being underdogs.
"We've gone into every game this year with the attitude we can win it, and that is how we're going into this one," Utah coach Rich Manning said.
Should the Utes win, they would move on to play the winner of the Minnesota-Texas Tech game being played in Chapel Hill, N.C.
The Utes, ranked No. 29 in the NSCAA National Poll, are 0-3 all-time against the Aggies, with losses coming in 1997, 1999 and 2003.
Unlike the Utes (10-4-6) , the Aggies (17-4-1) are old hands at postseason play, having participated in the tournament for 19 straight years, making them just one of five teams to qualify for the tournament every year since 1995.
This year, the Aggies enter the tournament on a roll, having won 12 of their last 13 contests and winning the SEC Tournament.
While the Aggies have solidified themselves as an annual tournament presence, the Utes seem like a team on an upswing striving for such consistency.
They placed third in the Pac-12 this season, their highest finish since joining the league, and were represented in Pac-12 postseason honors by senior Jenny Hutton, sophomore Lindsey Luke, junior Ashton Hall and freshman Katie Rigby.
That all but Hall are known for their defensive prowess shows the strength of Utah's team, which has 10 shutouts and is averaging 0.69 goals against.
Luke, a sophomore keeper, ranks fifth nationally with an .894 save percentage and 19th with a goals-against average of 0.15.
The Utah defenders will have their hands full with the Aggies' scoring threats. Shea Groom leads the team with 32 points and 13 goals, and freshman Liz Keester, the SEC Tournament MVP, is second on the team in points (24) and goals (10).
As a team, the Aggies have 53 goals on the season while opponents have managed just 21.
Manning isn't afraid of meeting a high-scoring team, noting the SEC has been a high-scoring league while the Pac-12 is more about defense.
"They have some dynamic attackers, so we have to go in and try and control the tempo," he said. "That is going to be the key for us."
The only common opponent between the two programs was Arizona State, who the Aggies beat 3-1 while Utah lost 2-1 in double overtime.
The Utes haven't beaten a ranked team this year, as they tied No. 11 Cal and No. 2 UCLA, then suffered 1-0 losses to No. 6 BYU and No. 10 Stanford.
The Utes excelled at home this year, extending their unbeaten home record to 12-0 and outscoring opponents 25-8 but were just 3-4-2 on the road. The Aggies are 10-2-1 at home.
However, being on the road won't intimidate the Utes, Manning said.
"We've been in a lot of challenging atmospheres, like BYU and Stanford, and played well," he said.
NCAA College Cup
O Utah vs. No. 13 Texas A&M At College Station, Texas
Friday, 6 p.m. MT