Utah soccer: year in review

By By Tom Quinn

By Tom Quinn

By her own admission, Carisse Winegar isn’t much of a dreamer. From her spot as a defender on the Utah women’s soccer team, she served as Utah’s resident cynic, taking it upon herself to keep things in perspective for the rest of the group.

In spite of her tendency to take everything at face value, Winegar spent most of last Sunday waxing philosophical about her last season as a Ute, touching on everything from her teammates to the previous night’s disappointing loss to Portland to the future of the program.

Her conclusion? In addition to being one of the best teams ever to set foot on campus, the Utes of 2006 are the start of something special.

“I’m very proud to have been a part of this team’s chemistry,” she said. “We accomplished so much this season. What’s not to be proud of?”

Although losses to both the Pilots and UNLV over the last two weeks of the season may have left the team with a bad taste in its collective mouth, Winegar is correct in pointing out that the positive aspects of 2006 ought to easily outweigh any lingering negative feelings about the season.

“Everything I dreamed of doing and being able to accomplish on the field, they did,” U head coach Rich Manning said. “I’m so proud of them for that.”

The Utes, who finished with a record of 16-5-1, overcame injuries to a handful of key players to cobble together one of the best seasons in the program’s relatively short history, setting several records in the process.

Some of the team’s most noteworthy new marks include most wins in a single season (16), most consecutive wins (10), most shutouts in succession (nine) and highest-ever national ranking (11th).

Of course, seasons like this rarely come without blood, sweat and/or tears, and this was no exception. Like any other team, the Utes experienced highs and lows from day one and at times didn’t look like a team capable of advancing to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

A forgettable September saw the Utes suffer through a three-game losing streak that included embarrassing road losses to Purdue and Illinois. To this day, Manning cringes whenever he’s asked to recount the events of that fateful weekend.

The season’s turning point, however, came barely a week later when the Utes, just days removed from a lackluster 1-0 win over Utah State, handily defeated national power Pepperdine 2-0 at Ute Field. That win put Utah on a roll that would carry them all the way to the MWC title game.

Utah’s success did not go unnoticed, and the Utes ended up with more Player of the Week awards and all-conference selections than some MWC teams had wins.

Senior goalkeeper Ashley Mason led the way for the Utes; her 76 saves combined with her role in Utah’s impressive shutout streak earned her the Defensive Player of the Year award, while fellow defenders Melissa Wayman and Kiley Jones received all-conference honors.

Not to be outdone, sophomore forward Adele Letro got a well-deserved nod as the MWC’s Offensive Player of the Year, and unstoppable underclassman Kelly Isleib was recognized as the conference’s top freshman, marking the second consecutive year in which Utah has swept the three major awards.

Senior forward Amanda Feigt proved invaluable over the course of the season. Her seven assists not only earned her a spot on the all-conference team for the third year in a row, but they also put her atop Utah’s all-time assist leaders with 21 in her career.

“You can try to list their accomplishments,” Manning said. “But there’s bleachers out there, there’s lights out there and there are a lot of people at our games. We’re playing in the NCAA tournament for the fifth-straight year, and we have a lot of trophies in the trophy case. I’ll always be thankful and have a soft spot in my heart for them.”

Lennie Mahler

Adele Letro celebrates a goal with Melissa Wayman during Utah’s NCAA tournament first-round victory over Idaho State University on Nov. 9 at Ute Field.