Full circle

By By Tom Quinn

By Tom Quinn

Since Rich Manning first arrived to coach the women’s soccer team at Utah, high expectations and the pressure to perform have always been a part of the month of November.

After all, the Mountain West and NCAA tourneys are just around the corner, and the Utes always anticipate a good showing at both. This year, however, brings more pressure than ever before, as it will be the last hurrah for one of the best recruiting classes in the history of the program.

“We always used to talk about how good the team would be by the time we got to be seniors,” senior defender Melissa Wayman said. “There’s more pressure now that we’re finally seniors. For us, there is no next year.”

Wayman, a native of West Valley City, is just one of several players who arrived on campus four years ago as part of Rich Manning’s initial recruiting class, a talented group that was expected to contribute almost immediately.

Manning challenged Wayman and Co. with an accelerated learning curve, and the group responded admirably, forming what has been the backbone of the program for as long as most current students have been on campus.

In the time since their arrival, the Utes have won three conference championships, including back-to-back titles in 2005 and 2006. They have completely rewritten Utah’s record books while turning a lackluster program into arguably the top team in the MWC.

“We’ve been through so much together,” fellow senior Hailey Marsh said. “We’ve gone from a team that had never beaten BYU to winning three conference championships in the last four years.”

As impressive as the Utes have been over the last four years, one could argue that the team set a new high-water mark in 2006. Utah, which had never been ranked higher than No. 14, presently sits at No. 11 in the country. Also, the Utes set a new record for consecutive shutouts, with nine so far.

In addition to all their good fortune, the Utes have endured plenty of adversity this year. But they have proven to be resilient, fighting through both injuries to key players and a three-game losing skid in mid-September.

“Last year, we had some problems with a losing streak, but this is a resilient team,” Manning said. “I trust them not to crumble and lose focus if something goes wrong.”

Right now, the Utes are primarily focused on Friday’s date with Wyoming, though not entirely because it is all that stands between them and an undefeated conference record. Friday is also Senior Day, which will give the team a chance to honor the graduating class.

“It’s going to be really emotional,” Wayman said. “This team has been such a big part of my life for so long.”

Although Friday’s game will doubtlessly carry a tone of finality, Utah’s players know that the season is far from over. To them, things are just barely starting to get interesting.

“We have about 10 games left, including the national championship,” fellow senior Hailey Marsh said with a laugh. “There is still a lot of soccer to be played.”

Lennie Mahler

Senior Amanda Feigt drives the ball toward the goal in Friday’s 4-0 win over TCU.