U soccer kicks off MWC tourney

The U soccer team (11-5-2, 3-2-1 MWC) will begin its MWC title defense today against Wyoming (9-6-4, 3-3-0) in the first round of the 2004 MWC tournament in Provo at 2 p.m. The Utes will go into the tournament as the No. 4 seed, and Wyoming heads in at No. 5. The winner of the seven-team tournament will receive an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.

The Cowgirls are coming off a 5-1 victory over New Mexico, while the Utes are rebounding from a devastating 2-1 loss to BYU. Although the two teams ended the regular season headed in opposite directions, the Utes feel good about their mindset heading into today’s match.

“I feel like we’re in a good frame of mind for [Wednesday’s] game,” U head coach Rich Manning said. “The leftover feeling we have from the BYU game is that we played with good intensity, but we just didn’t execute.”

The Utes didn’t have much of an opportunity to work on their execution this week in practice due to the inclement weather, but they will be well rested.

“We took Sunday off, and then on Monday and Tuesday the field was under snow, so we made due with what we could,” Manning said.

Wyoming has dealt with the same weather, so they will be in a similar position concerning rest, but they are 0-11 against the Utes, including three MWC tournament losses and are hungry for a win.

“I’m sure they’ll be motivated, it’s the conference tournament,” Manning said. “The new element for them in the last year or two is that they have a lot of confidence from a good two-year run.

They come into the game believing in themselves, and that changes everything,” Manning said.

The Cowgirls also have junior forward Mercy Adetoye, who is one of the conference’s premier offensive threats. She has scored seven goals on the year, and has assisted on seven others.

“You have to stop Mercy,” Manning said. “If we can do that, we’ll be in good shape.”

Senior Ute defender Tracy Stratton-Garner is confident that the Utes will be able to do just that based on precedent.

“She’s a good forward, but we shut her down last game,” Garner said. “We’re hoping to do that again, and if our offense can possess the ball, then we won’t have to worry about her.”

Despite the relative ease with which the Utes have beaten the Cowboys in the past, Garner is concerned about today’s game because she is aware that this is not the Wyoming of old.

“I think Wyoming was one of the best teams we played in our conference,” Garner said.

“Even though we were up 2-0, they never gave up, so we have to respect them as an opponent.”

The winner of the Utah-Wyoming game will face the MWC regular-season champion UNLV Rebels on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. The Rebels beat both the Utes and the Cowgirls during the regular season, and incurred only one conference loss to BYU in Provo.

The Rebels beat the Utes in Salt Lake City by a score of 1-0 on a fluke goal that took a strange hop over Ute goalkeeper Ashley Mason’s head. Losing that way left a sour taste on Ute palates, and revenge is on their minds.

“Obviously, it’s nice that our second round game would be against UNLV, but I think that we want to make sure that we get to the second round first,” Garner said. “We can’t have revenge if we’re not playing in the game.”

UNLV is the slight favorite to win the tournament, but the Rebels are by no means a shoe-in.

“I think the tournament is up for grabs,” Manning said. “A lot of teams could win it. The games are going to be tight, so if we put in a good performance, I think we’ll come out on top.”

The Utes could certainly use a second straight MWC title to guarantee an NCAA tournament berth, which would otherwise be anything but a guarantee.

“I think we’re on the bubble right now, but we definitely have some work to do,” Manning said.

“I don’t think I’d feel totally comfortable over the weekend unless we won the tournament. But the way the bracket shaped up, a win over Wyoming gets us into a rematch with UNLV, and I think they’re already in.”

“If we win that game, not only does it get us to the tournament final, but it would definitely help our cause for the NCAA tournament,” Manning added.

The Utes set three goals at the beginning of the season: to win the regular-season conference title, to win the conference tournament, and to make the NCAA playoffs. They fell short of their first goal, but can still accomplish the last two, the two most significant, and the team attitude is set on just that.

“We’re really confident and ready to defend our title,” Garner said.

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