Shutout by shutouts

By By Tom Quinn

By Tom Quinn

With a 3-1 record and two big wins over ranked programs, no one can deny that the U women’s soccer team is off to a good start. There is, however, one statistical annoyance that die-hard fans can’t help but notice.

The Utes have gone four games, two overtimes and one exhibition match without registering a shutout.

In comparison, at this point last season, senior keeper Ashley Mason had already blanked three different teams in wins over San Francisco, Boise State and UVSC. She tallied 10 shutouts on the season, which helped earn her second team all-conference honors.

Holding the opposition scoreless has proven much more difficult in the opening weeks of the 2006 season. The Utes have allowed exactly one goal per game, which is just enough to seriously annoy Mason.

“Defensively, we want that shutout,” Mason said. “That’s what we always shoot for. But even the ugliest win is still a win.”

Now here’s where things get a little strange: Utah’s back line, for the most part, has been playing extremely well. Melissa Crespo, Katie Battazzo and the rest of the defense have shut down some of the most dangerous offensive players that the Pac-10 has to offer.

Forward Brooke Bemis, Washington State’s top scorer coming into Friday night’s match, looked helpless against Utah’s physical back line and was held without so much as a shot. Unfortunately, the Cougars still found a way to score, robbing Mason of her clean sheet in the waning minutes of the second half.

“We need to stop giving other teams chances to score late in the half,” Mason said. “We need to make the other team work harder than that.”

Sunday’s game was a similar story on a different day. Utah’s backs kept a muzzle on a pair of Wildcat forwards that looked all but unstoppable in their match against Utah State, teaming up for three goals in less than 30 minutes.

“We definitely had to make some adjustments for that game,” Mason said. “We were giving them a little too much cushion in the first half. Overall, I think our defense played pretty well.”

Mason certainly played well enough to earn a shutout, tallying six saves and blocking a second-half penalty kick. But her effort was to no avail. An own goal in the 29th minute foiled her chance for a perfect game long before the Wildcats had their chance.

“That own goal was just a series of mistakes,” Mason said. “There was some miscommunication between Crespo and me. The important thing was that we didn’t let it get us down.”

Utah’s next shot at a shutout will come Friday night in home match against Fresno State. The Bulldogs are coming off one of the biggest wins in their program’s history, a 1-0 victory over Florida, and blanking them will be no easy task.

Christopher Peddecord

Junior Katie Battazzo battles with an Arizona player for possession during the Utes’ 2-1 win in the Utah Fall Classic on Sunday.

Kamil Krzaczynski

Junior Emillie Toone sends a spike into the Fresno State defense during a match in Los Angeles on Sunday.