Drop-kicked

By By Tom Quinn

By Tom Quinn

All good things must eventually come to an end.

Such was the case with the U women’s soccer team’s 11-game winning streak, which came to an end Saturday afternoon against UNLV in a shootout in the final round of the Mountain West Conference tourney.

The battle between the Utes, who came into the tournament ranked No. 1 in the MWC, and the third-seeded Rebels lasted through regulation and two overtime periods. Although Utah out-shot UNVL 20-8 overall and recorded an 11-4 advantage in shots on goal, the Utes were unable to find the back of the net.

“At the end of the day, I don’t think we played our best soccer,” U head coach Rich Manning said. “It’s very disappointing.”

With the score locked at 0-0, the MWC final spilled over into penalty kicks for just the second time in conference history. The parity continued well into the shootout, as both teams converted on their first five attempts.

The sixth series did not go as well for the Utes. Junior midfielder Melissa Crespo’s shot sailed over the crossbar, putting UNLV’s Armani Rice in position to ice the game. Her shot nearly followed the same trajectory, but bounced off the crossbar and into the goal, giving the Rebels both the win and the automatic NCAA bid that comes with it.

“I believed in myself and in my teammates,” Rice said. “I was confident. I knew that shot was in.”

The loss not only marked the first time this season that Utah failed to score against a conference opponent, but also marked the first time in school history that the Utes have failed to win the conference title after advancing to the final game.

“That game was kind of a bummer,” U senior forward Hailey Marsh said. “But the season isn’t over yet. There is still a lot of soccer to be played.”

UNLV’s win came as a surprise to soccer fans, many of whom didn’t expect the Rebels to advance past the second round, especially considering that they needed a miraculous, last-second goal to beat lowly Wyoming.

But UNLV didn’t quit, and ultimately defeated the No. 1 and No. 2 teams en route to its second consecutive tournament title. Head coach Katherine Mertz attributed the team’s motivation to the Rebels’ must-win mentality.

“For sure, we were playing for something,” she said. “Utah should already have an at-large berth. This was do-or-die for us.”

Several of Mertz’s players were named to the all-tournament team, and UNLV midfielder Tanya Roberts was named the tourney’s MVP. A handful of Utes were also honored as well; Ashley Mason, Melissa Wayman and Mckenzie Joyner each got nods.

The Utes will have a few days to regroup before the beginning of the NCAA tournament, for which they will likely qualify via an at-large berth. According to Manning, Utah has plenty to work on between now and then.

“It’s the third game in a row that we’ve been awful after halftime,” Manning said. “We come out and do our best imitation of cones. We stand around out there, and that’s a concern. But in some sense we do have a little bit of a mulligan here.”

Lennie Mahler

UNLV defender Dani Morin slows down Adele Letro as she heads toward the UNLV goal in the second half of the MWC championship game at Ute Field on Saturday.

Lennie Mahler

Utah’s Melissa Crespo and Melissa Wayman watch as UNLV scores the game-winning kick in the sixth round of a penalty kick shootout on goalie Ashlee Mason during the Mountain West Conference championship game at Ute Field. The game extended through two sessions of overtime and five shootout rounds before a winner was decided by sudden death.