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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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The road begins here

By Tom Quinn

As the U women’s soccer players sat in the Burbidge Center on Monday afternoon, they hardly looked like they were awaiting perhaps the most important announcement of 2006.

Melissa Crespo had her nose buried in a book, Carisse Winegar busied herself by jawing at no one in particular and a still-woozy Hailey Marsh, who suffered a severe concussion Saturday, persisted in trying to figure out how many fingers the trainers were holding up.

The team’s business-as-usual routine didn’t change much over the course of the afternoon. When the talking heads on ESPN finally announced the Utes would host Idaho State in the first round of the NCAA tourney, the team responded with utter nonchalance.

“You’re all so jaded,” head coach Rich Manning told his players. “A few years ago, everyone was cheering (at the announcement). Carisse told me that it was the only time she had ever been excited to practice.”

Things have changed a lot since 2002, the first year the Utes were selected to participate in the NCAA tournament. Back then, the Utes were a bubble team most famous for its 0-12 record against rival BYU.

These days, however, the team not only plans on an annual appearance in the tourney, but also harbors realistic hopes of advancing past the first two rounds.

“Some of us are already talking about going to the semis in North Carolina,” one player said.

While everyone in the room fully expected the NCAA to invite the Utes to the Big Dance, not even Manning thought Utah would welcome a powerhouse program like Portland to face local yokels like BYU and Idaho State.

“I thought that they would host for sure,” Manning said of the Pilots.

One of the perks of hosting the tournament is the home team’s ability to choose when to play. Manning took full advantage of this bonus by electing to face ISU in the early game and leaving the Portland/BYU matchup until later.

Today’s game, which begins at 4:30 p.m., will mark the second first-round meeting between Utah and Idaho State University. The first encounter, a 0-0 tie that the Bengals won in a shootout, is still a sore subject for the players who were around to see it.

“We know Idaho State very well,” Manning said. “Maybe we’ll be able to pay them back for what happened in 2003.”

The Utes already defeated the Bengals once this season, using the notion of revenge to fuel a 3-1 win in Pocatello. Amanda Feigt scored her first goal of the season and Jen Christoffers added two more, giving Utah its first road win of the season.

The Bengals rebounded quickly from that setback and have won six of their last eight en route to an overtime win over Sacramento State in the Big Sky title game. No stranger to national competition, ISU has appeared in the NCAA tourney four times in the last six years.

“We’re very excited about playing a team that we have already played,” ISU coach Allison Gibson said. “We played well against Utah earlier in the season. Without them scoring a goal in the final seconds, that was really a 2-1 win for them.”

Michelle Okumura and Chantal Kim are the Bengals’ most dangerous offensive weapons; Okumura leads the team with 15 points on six goals and three assists, while Kim’s seven goals top the team.

“I know that if we play our cards right, we can come out on top,” Gibson said.

Lennie Mahler

Melissa Crespo fights with UNLV midfielder Armani Rice for better footing in the MWC tournament match Saturday.

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