Utes head to the Midwest

By By Tom Quinn

By Tom Quinn

After a two-week homestand, the U women’s soccer team is taking its show on the road to face two big-time Big Ten programs in Purdue and Illinois.

The Utes will face the Boilermakers tonight in West Lafayette, Ind., and would be wise not to let their guard down. The Utes understand that the 2006 Boilermakers have come to play.

Purdue’s record presently stands at an impressive 6-1-1, with five of those victories coming via shutout. Keeper Lauren Mason hasn’t allowed a goal in nearly six weeks and owns the school record for shutouts with 18.

The offense, led by forwards Parissa Eyorokon and Jessica Okoroafo, is every bit as impressive as Purdue’s vaunted D. Both players have been embarrassing defenses all season long, having each recorded three goals and two assists.

Tonight’s match-up will mark only the second time the two schools have met; the inaugural game, which Utah won 1-0, was held last year at Ute field.

“We had a cracker of a game with Purdue last season, and I expect the same on Friday,” U coach Rich Manning said. “They have a tough team, with a couple of creative midfielders and forwards that can finish the slightest of chances.”

On Sunday, the Utes will face Illinois, a team that appears to have righted its collective ship after a turbulent start. Purdue is coming off two big wins, a 4-0 decision over Big East power Syracuse and a 1-0 victory over Auburn of the Southeastern Conference.

After starting the season with a convincing win over South Carolina, the Illini dropped their next thee matches by a combined score of 9-0.

The outcome of Sunday’s game will depend at least in part on which Illinois team the Utes face. Will it be the squad that beat the No. 13 Auburn Tigers, or the one that suffered through a 5-0 defeat at the hands of lowly Missouri?

“This will be our first game against Illinois,” Manning said. “They have a terrific program and will be contending, I’m sure, for the Big Ten championship later this fall.”

Defensively, the Utes must find a way to contain forwards Ella Masar-who assisted on two game-winning goals in last weekend’s action-and Chichi Nweke, who has one goal and one assist on the season.

Illinois’ physical back line will also represent a challenge for the Utes. The Illini’s top three defenders are all listed at or near 6 feet tall, a fact that will make winning balls in the offensive third a tall order for Utah’s forwards.

“It’s another opportunity to prepare ourselves for conference play and some of the environments we will be playing in later in the season,” Manning said of the tough competition.

Sunday’s match will pit Utah forward Hailey Marsh, the MWC Offensive Player of the Week, against Illinois defender Emily Zurrer, who was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week after her performance against Auburn.

“These are two of the top teams from the Great Lakes region,” Manning said. “We have a chance to beat two big teams from outside our region, and that’s something that can help us a lot in terms of getting a spot in the NCAA tournament.”

Mike Terry

Utah’s Kiley Jones tries to escape the grasp of Colorado’s Laura Munnelly during Sunday’s match at Ute Field. The Utes fell behind 2-1 in the second half as Colorado scored two goals, including a penalty kick.