The Utes, as head coach Rich Manning put it Thursday evening, have taken a bit of a left turn the past few weeks. And in the Pac-12 Conference, an elongated turn off course can leave teams in the rearview mirror, and quickly.
“This isn’t the conference start that we wanted,” he said.
Utah’s scuffling start to Pac-12 play continued Thursday at Ute Field as No. 2-ranked Stanford continued its undefeated start by topping the Utes 3-0. Utah is now 0-3-1 in Pac-12 play. In four conference matches, the Utes have yet to notch a goal. And facing a top 10 defensive team Thursday in the Cardinal wasn’t a recipe for curbing the struggles.
The Utes (5-5-2, 0-3-1) didn’t manage a shot on goal in 90 minutes.
“We’re up against the wall already,” he said.
Stanford’s Jordan DiBiasi put the Cardinal up 1-0 in the 27th minute as she ran unmarked in the center of the box and finished an easy header off a cross from Tegan McGrady. Utah’s back line held tight for much of the first half, but losing DiBiasi on her run was a momentary lapse the Utes couldn’t afford.
Eight minutes into the second half, winger Michelle Xiao finished off a fantastic solo effort with a left-footed shot into the far post after dribbling through several Utes to put Stanford up 2-0 in the 53rd minute. Four minutes later, Kyra Carusa was the beneficiary of a deflection off a shot from captain Andi Sullivan. Carusa, onside, finished easily to wrap things up.
“I think there’s a little bit of mental toughness we’ve got to get back, our mindset has to get right,” Manning said, “but credit to them, they’re a great team.”
The Utes were struck with a bug during their two-game road trip in Washington last week. Manning said the illness that spread around the team had lingering effects into this week, which made matters more difficult against one of the premier programs in the country. The coaching staff had to monitor minutes of several players who were still dealing with lingering symptoms.
The schedule affords Utah no respite, either.
The Utes host No. 20 California at 2 p.m. Sunday afternoon.
“We’re not that far off,” Manning said, “but I think even when we were winning a few weeks ago, we were lacking some of the details. We’ve just said, ‘Get back to the basics.’”