No easy task for Ute soccer in regular-season opener

After avenging the tournament loss last year, Utah soccer is ready to start the season. The Utes knocked off Idaho State 3-0 Sunday in Pocatello, Idaho. The last time the Utes faced the Bengals, they were upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament-a disappointing end to a conference championship season.

“With so many new faces and personalities on the team, it was just good to get out there in a competitive environment,” said head coach Rich Manning.

Hailey Marsh, Erin Pruitt and Amanda Feigt notched goals for the Utes, with Ashley Mason and Glennis Donnelley combining for the shutout in goal.

“Overall, I thought we played well.” Manning said.

The fifteenth-ranked Utes will need to play well in a hurry, as they start the regular season at 14th-ranked Stanford Saturday in Palo Alto, Calif.

“Stanford is loaded with players who have represented the United States at the youth level,” Manning said. “Going there and doing well will be a terrific challenge for us.”

Last season the Cardinals placed third in a very competitive Pac 10, going 10-9-2 overall, 5-3 in conference play. Like the Utes, they were eliminated in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Stanford brings back top goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart, who averaged .79 goals given up per game last season.

Sunday at 1 p.m. marks Utah’s home opener, as Gonzaga University comes to Ute Field.

“Gonzaga is coming off their best year ever,” Manning said. “They are anticipating a great season.”

The Bulldogs come off an 11-8 season, with a 3-4 record in the elite West Coast Conference. They return their entire starting 11, including scoring machine (13 goals, 4 assists) Annie Hawkins. Hawkins, along with teammate and sister Sarah played their high school soccer at nearby Judge Memorial.

“They will be especially motivated to put on a great performance,” Manning said.

The scheduling of teams from top conferences is no coincidence, as Manning wants to test the Utes early.

“I think the Pac 10 and the WCC are the best conferences in the West, so it’s always good to play those schools,” he said.

After a tough opening weekend, Utah will not get a break, as the first ever Utah Fall Classic opens at Ute Field Sept. 3. The tournament field includes Oregon-another Pac 10 team, and San Francisco-another WCC team. Local rival Weber State rounds out a challenging lineup.

In addition, being ranked 15th by Soccer America, Utah is 18th in Soccer Buzz magazine, as well as fifth in the west region. The Utes were picked by Mountain West Conference coaches to repeat as league champions, edging out BYU for the top pick.

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