Rice-Eccles to host Mountain West tourney

By and

After claiming its first ever outright regular season Mountain West Conference championship with a 6-0 record in conference play, the No. 17 U soccer team (15-2) looks to continue its runaway success in the MWC tournament this week.

The Utes will play host to the tournament for the first time since the inception of the MWC four years ago.

Because of inclement weather, the tournament will be held at Rice-Eccles Stadium instead of Ute Field, where it was originally scheduled.

“It’s disappointing not to get to play on our home field, we were all really excited for that,” coach Rich Manning said. “But what a nice luxury we have to be able to go into Rice-Eccles as a back up.”

This will be the first time the Utes will be considered the favorites to win the tournament. BYU has won all four previous MWC tournaments, and none of the Cougars’ titles came as much of a surprise.

Several factors are working in Utah’s favor in this year’s tournament.

One is that the Utes will have a first-round bye and they don’t have to play until Thursday at 2 p.m.

“We have a lot of things going for us. Being at home, having a lot of confidence coming off the BYU victory, but it’s a single elimination situation, so a lot of things can happen during games,” Manning said.

In addition to home field advantage, the Utes will also benefit from their draw. They will be playing the winner of the San Diego State vs. UNLV matchup. Utah handled both opponents with relative ease at their home stadiums. Despite this fact, Manning remains realistic about the game.

“Our Thursday game is going to be a tough one,” Manning said. “Just because we got the top seed doesn’t guarantee us anything; we have to earn that.”

The Utes are undefeated at home so far this season, so they shouldn’t have trouble with either team.

Utah also goes into the tournament with a red-hot player in freshman forward Amanda Feigt.

Feigt won her second straight MWC Offensive Player of the Week honor by virtue of her game-winning goal against BYU in overtime last Saturday night. The goal was no fluke-she has been on a roll lately, totaling three goals and three assists in her last four games.

On the other side of the bracket, BYU doesn’t have the most difficult draw, either, with a 9 a.m. game against Air Force. With victory almost certain for the Cougars, they will likely face the winner of the New Mexico vs. Wyoming game.

Much like the Utes, the Cougars handled both of their potential second-round opponents with ease during the regular season scoring five goals against both.

The second-seeded Cougars (12-5-2, 4-2-0) come into the tournament fresh off their loss to the Utes at South Stadium. It was the second-straight time the Utes had beaten BYU in Provo, so the Cougars will be plenty motivated to win their fifth straight MWC tournament-probably even more so because they are no longer the favorites.

With plenty of offensive and defensive talent, including All-American midfielder Aleisha Rose, the Cougars will pose the biggest threat to the Utes’ title run.

Additionally, the Cougars have never lost in Salt Lake City, so history is on their side.

The Wyoming Cowgirls (10 8, 4-2 MWC) finished the season in a second-place tie with BYU in the MWC, but they lost the head-to-head matchup with the Cougars, so they are seeded No. 3 in the tournament.

This was the best year ever put together by a Cowgirl soccer team, but they are far from satisfied. They have one of the best goalies in the conference in Lori Scheider, and the Cowgirls hope to ride her to a championship.

However, their offense has sputtered recently, especially against the Utes, when they were only able to muster one shot all game in a 5-1 loss.

Wyoming’s quarterfinal match is at 11:30 a.m. against New Mexico.

The San Diego State Aztecs (7-9-2, 2-3-1 MWC) had held their opponents scoreless for almost 300 minutes before their first-round opponent, UNLV, ended that streak by beating them 1-0 on Saturday.

The Aztecs’ chance for revenge comes at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, as they face off against UNLV for the second time in five days.

UNLV (8-9-2, 2-4-0 MWC) has the unenviable task of beating the same team twice in one week. Much like SDSU, the Rebels are built defensively, and muster very little offense throughout a game. However, both teams could fare well if their defenses can hold off the powerful offense of Utah and capitalize on one of their few chances.

However, the winner has to beat the Utes on their home field, and no team has succeeded in that task all season.

Sixth-seeded New Mexico (2-11-4, 1-4-1 MWC) was, surprisingly, one of Utah’s toughest opponents this season. The Lobos took the Utes to overtime on Oct. 11 before losing on a golden goal by Amber Brower.

Nonetheless, the Utes aren’t terribly disappointed that the Lobos ended up on the other side of the bracket.

The Lobos could upset the Cowgirls in the first game, but BYU poses a challenge that seems to be beyond the capabilities of the underachieving Lobos.

The Air Force Falcons (7 10-1, 1-5 MWC) come into the tournament having lost six of their last eight games.

The Utes destroyed the Falcons at Ute Field this year, but the Falcons won’t have to worry about that matchup, as mighty BYU also manhandled the Falcons in their regular season matchup.

This isn’t the worst team in the conference because they actually try to score rather than wait for one or two chances a game. Air Force gets blown out quite a lot, though, because its spread out style hasn’t proven very effective against opposing offenses. Overall, the tournament should be hard fought, with many evenly matched teams facing off in the first round, and anyone of them capable of beating the two favorites on a given day.

For proof, look no further than SDSU’s victory over BYU, or New Mexico’s narrow loss to the Utes.

“I really think that a lot of the teams in our conference are very good defensive teams with good goal keepers,” Manning said. “Just like we always see in the Stanley Cup playoffs, if one goalie gets hot, that team could be tough to beat. The threat of one team having a great game and a hot goaltender keeping you out of the net is a strong possibility.”

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