Utes will face UNLV Thursday at Rice-Eccles

By and

After playing the role of observer yesterday, the U soccer team (15-2, 6-0) will begin play in the MWC tournament today at 5 p.m. against UNLV (9-9-2, 2-4-0).

Today’s other semifinal match will feature the Cougars of BYU (13-5-2, 4-2 0) against the Lobos of New Mexico (3-11-4, 1-4-1) at 2 p.m. All MWC tournament games will be played at Rice Eccles Stadium.

The Rebels earned the right to play the Utes last night by defeating San Diego State (7-10-2, 2-3-1) by a score of 2-1.

With the coaching staff of the Utes looking on from the press box, UNLV looked sharp capitalizing on two out of four scoring chances. Goalie Jenna Huff also played well, making two saves.

San Diego State had been down 2-0 until the 73rd minute, when Jessica Korpela knocked in a Becky Prilamen corner kick.

The Aztecs had a couple of chances to tie the game in the final 10 minutes, but both were prevented by solid UNLV defense.

“The first half I thought we were extremely sluggish, but in the second half we came out and did some very good things,” UNLV head coach Dan Abdalla said.

“We definitely have to pick it up for tomorrow, but I think we at least gained some confidence by scoring a couple of goals.”

Aside from Utah’s six-game winning streak, UNLV has the longest current winning streak with three-straight victories.

This fact has Ute coach Rich Manning somewhat concerned about his semifinal opponent.

“They have a very good goalkeeper in Jenna Huff, and they’re coming off three straight wins, so they should have a lot of confidence,” he said.

Aside from confidence, the Rebels should be fired up to beat the Utes after what happened in Las Vegas in October.

“They’ll be very motivated because we beat them 5-1 this year, even though the game was a lot closer than the score indicated,” Manning said.

Abdalla concurred that the 5-1 score was no indication of how close the game was in Vegas, but he does realize that Utah is the better team.

“They’re a great team, so we’re going to have to come out and play our best game of the year to have a chance in the game,” Abdalla said.

Although Abdalla might be trying to lull the Utes to sleep with these words, Manning is fully aware of UNLV’s potential as an upset team. The Utes met last night after the game to go over strategy in preparation for today’s showdown.

Manning noticed several key players that he will focus on shutting down, including Kim Chock, who rocketed a ball with her left foot from 20 yards out into the upper-left corner of the goal for the game-winner.

Annii Magluilo is the Rebels’ other scoring threat, but Manning is accustomed to her play, having worked with her in soccer camps while he was coaching at Santa Clara.

The Utes will certainly be excited for the opportunity to “earn the first seed,” as Manning put it. They have brought a tenacious attack and a stifling defense all season. Although this is a young team, strong veteran leadership will have them ready to play.

“They’ve made it clear since the beginning of preseason that this tournament is very important to them, so hopefully that will come out in the play,” Manning said.

Adding to their motivation will be the fact that the Utes can become the first team besides BYU to win the MWC tournament, and they just might have to go through BYU to do it.

The Cougars took on Air Force in the first game of the tournament yesterday and beat them handily by a score of 2-0.

Lydia Ojuka scored the game- winning goal 13 minutes in, and BYU never looked back.

The Cougars will face the Lobos of New Mexico, who surprised third-seeded Wyoming 2-1 in double overtime. After scoring only five goals all season, the Lobos managed to net two against a sloppy Wyoming defense.

Wyoming’s only goal came in the 69th minute of play on a penalty kick by first team all-conference defender Kristen Stangl.

At the time, it seemed like the game would end that way until Kellisha Rendel made an excellent run down the right side of the field, and laced the ball into the upper-right corner of the net to tie the game at one.

New Mexico was given several other opportunities to score in regulation, but squandered them all on shanks.

Coco D’Angelo scored the golden goal just three minutes before the shootout would have begun, from an Erchen Theys pass.

Wyoming ended a good season on a disappointing note, despite the fact that they had a rowdy group of shirtless fans cheering them on zealously from the first row.

It’s worth noting that the fans had just put their shirts back on before the Lobos finished off the Cowgirls.

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