Utes make NCAA women’s soccer tournament after finishing eighth in Pac-12

(Photo courtesy of Steve C. Wilson/ University of Utah) Ireland Dunn, shown playing in a 2018 game, scored the only goal in each of Utah's last two games of the 2019 regular season, helping the Utes qualify for the NCAA Tournament.

At the time, Utah’s 1-0 victories over Washington and Colorado last week just seemed like a nice way to end the women’s soccer season and the college careers of Ireland Dunn, Carly Nelson and other seniors.

Those wins turned out to be worth much more. The Utes (8-8-4, 3-5-3 Pac-12) were rewarded Monday with an NCAA Tournament berth. Utah will visit No. 12-ranked Duke this week in Durham, N.C., on Friday at 4 p.m. MST.

Those last two victories lifted the Utes to eighth place in the Pac-12, which produced a No. 1 seed (Stanford), two No. 2 seeds (USC and UCLA) and a No. 4 seed (Washington) among the conference’s nine qualifiers. Last season, the Utes were overlooked in the NCAA selections, even after finishing fourth in the Pac-12.

“This team has been climbing and fighting all season,” said coach Rich Manning, who will make his eighth NCAA appearance in his 18 seasons at Utah. “We continued to battle and got results at the end. This is a great achievement for our team.”

The Utes gathered to watch the NCAA selection show, but were not completely optimistic about needing to practice Monday. “I cannot believe it,” Dunn said in a school news release. “I was ready to watch the show and go do homework.”

Dunn scored the only goal in each of Utah’s win over Washington and Colorado, while Nelson earned her ninth and 10th shutouts of the season in goal.

Duke is 8-3-7 this season, including 3-1-6 in the deep, talented Atlantic Coast Conference. Utah lost 2-1 at Duke in a 2017 regular-season game, with current senior Holly Daugirda scoring the Utes’ goal. The Utes opened the 2019 season with a 2-0 loss at ACC member Clemson.

The Duke-Utah winner will advance to the second round of the 64-team tournament, presumably at No. 3 seed Wisconsin.