Utes loco after loss to Lobos: Soccer loses in MWC semifinals, but keeps fingers crossed for NCAA Tournament

By and

Making the NCAA Tournament in the West Region has proven to be a tall task for the U soccer team in 2005.

After a gallant run, Rich Manning’s squad might fall just short of their fourth-straight Tourney appearance after a 1-0 loss to New Mexico in the Mountain West Conference Tournament on Thursday night.

“I still feel pretty good,” Manning said, “but the West is really deep this year and a lot will depend on what several other teams do this weekend.”

The No. 22 Utes controlled their own destiny after sweeping through the conference slate in the regular season and finishing a respectable 14-6-1.

But after demolishing Air Force 3-0 in Wednesday’s quarterfinal showdown, the Utes seemed to forget the stakes early on in Thursday’s contest.

New Mexico (8-6-4) came out firing.

With just 1:23 gone in the first half, the Lobos struck the only blow of the match.

Melissa Wayman headed a long throw-in backwards towards the Ute goal and the ball bounced between two defenders before Terryn Granados knocked it home for New Mexico.

“We couldn’t latch onto it,” Manning said. “You can’t let a ball bounce in the box-that’s a cardinal sin.”

Manning said he blames a lapse in concentration for the early mistake.

“For whatever reason we weren’t ready to play tonight,” he said. “Even after (New Mexico) scored we never felt like ‘We’re really on top of this now.'”

Wayman agreed with her coach.

“We didn’t come out hard enough,” she said. “We talk about how important it is to be the most determined team in the first and last minute of the game, and we failed to do that.”

The Utes shored up their defensive corps after the goal but it didn’t matter much.

New Mexico played for a one-goal victory, employing a more conservative approach in the remaining 88 minutes.

“It’s tough to get anything going when they’re always keeping eight or nine girls behind the ball,” Manning explained.

The U’s best chance came in the 86th minute when Whitney Dorsey found Wayman on a short corner, as the junior defender just missed her fourth goal of the season.

Manning moved Wayman up to offensive halfback in the second half to try to give the team a spark.

Wayman later provided the U’s second-best chance of the contest.

In the 79th minute, she found the right post on a floating shot from 25 yards out.

“It was a good shot,” Wayman said. “My heart skipped a beat when I heard the clink of the bar.”

The Utes and Lobos both took nine shots on the night; Ute keeper Ashley Mason recorded four stops while her counterpart Kristin Winters stopped five.

Manning said the Utes would just have to sit and wait to see what the selection committee does now.

“We’ve done a lot of good things this year, and I’m proud of our season,” he said. “Whatever happens, happens. Hopefully we’ve done enough and this won’t be our last game.”

The NCAA Tournament selection process takes place late Monday afternoon.

New Mexico will go on to face the winner of Thursday night’s semifinal between San Diego State and UNLV in the MWC Championship game on Saturday at 1 p.m. MST.

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