Utah seniors leading championship charge

With time winding down on their collegiate playing days, the seniors of the U soccer team aren’t thinking about what’s next. They are still happily immersed in the present, well-aware of the fact that these next few weeks will be among the most memorable of their lives.

Amber Brower, Jen Williams, Missy Dennis, Bobbie Benegas, Kari Keddington-Koon, Heather Wilhelm Carter and Genny Grimm comprise one of the most accomplished senior classes ever to play for the Utes.

They begin the last leg of a four-year journey this Saturday, and by the time it’s over, they will have contributed immeasurably to the construction of a nationally recognized program. You could count their goals and assists or their minutes played, but that wouldn’t even begin to describe what this group of seven women has meant to the progress of the U soccer team.

While some of the seniors have put up impressive numbers over their careers, it has been the intangibles they provide that have meant even more. Although intangibles by definition are impossible to measure, there are plenty of indications that they exist on this Ute team.

With 10 freshmen joining the team this year, the seniors were presented with the difficult task of assimilating the newcomers into the group. This seemingly took no time at all, as the team’s on-field chemistry became apparent just five games into the season.

“We have a team-first attitude this year,” Grimm said. “I have to sit and think, ‘Who are the sophomores, who are the juniors?’ It’s just not a big deal.”

As a result, after 16 games, the Utes look more like a family than just a team, and the seniors have played an important role in allowing that transition to happen.

“Last summer, the seniors came to me asking for e-mail addresses and phone numbers for the new recruits,” coach Rich Manning said. “They assigned two returning players to every new player. They also worked out with the local recruits this summer before I could coach them.”

But to categorize the impact of these seniors solely in terms of this season wouldn’t be doing them justice. This year is just the pinnacle of their success and the result of their four (or five) years of contributions.

Over the course of the seniors’ careers, the U soccer program has slowly crawled out of the shadow of BYU and into the national spotlight. By defeating several nationally ranked opponents over the last few seasons, the Utes have finally gained the consistent national ranking they deserve.

Just how much of this recent success can be attributed to the seniors?

“Everything,” Amber Brower said, only half-jokingly. “We started it.”

The Utes weren’t bad before this group arrived, but they were never ranked 17th nationally, as they are now. The seniors on this team have propagated a steady climb to the top of the conference, and they deserve at least some of credit for it.

“It’s our blood and sweat,” defender Jen Williams said.

Manning, however, feels they deserve more than just some of the credit.

“I feel that the upperclassmen really drive the team in women’s college soccer, and our success speaks for itself,” Manning said.

That success has culminated over the last two seasons into national rankings, an NCAA tournament victory, a regular-season conference championship-and whatever awaits the team in this year’s MWC and NCAA tournaments.

“Along with last year’s seniors, they have really set a tone for this program that we want to win, we want to be good and we’re committed to it,” Manning said.

There’s no telling what success this commitment might lead to in the future, but regardless, these seniors will always be a part of it.

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