Soccer advances to MWC semis

By By Natalie Dicou

By Natalie Dicou

The U women’s soccer team got the best kind of payback at the Mountain West Conference tournament Wednesday — the kind that manifests itself on the scoreboard.

The Utes won a satisfying 2-0 victory over the Wyoming Cowgirls in first-round action four days after Wyoming handed them a humbling 4-1 defeat.

The Utes resuscitated their season and advanced to the semifinal, which kicks off at 1 p.m. today at South Field in Provo.

Coach Rich Manning doesn’t want to spend too much time basking in the glory of a first-round victory.

“This is something that at the end of the season, we’ll look back and really feel good about,” Manning said, noting that round two was 21 hours away.

The Utes pulled off a shutout despite having to play without defenders Melissa Crespo and Amanda Sanchez — both sidelined with red cards issued during the regular season finale — and without starting goalkeeper Lynzee Lee, who was serving a one-game suspension for breaking team rules. Backups Emalee Rogers, Danielle Sample and Jena Roberts stepped up big for the No. 5 seeded Utes.

“It’s hard to watch your team out there working hard, and you’re just trying to give them as much encouragement as you can from the sidelines,” Sanchez said. “It’s all you can do.”

The Utes got on board in the 40th minute when they caught Wyoming goalie Ashley Sheppard out of position after she misjudged a ball. Freshman Lauren Hair easily kicked the ball into the open goal, notching her fourth score of the season.

In the 56th minute, Utah’s Chelsea Card gave the Utes a two-goal cushion on a header after Hair crossed the ball into the box. Adele Letro had a chance to put it away, but it ricocheted out to Card who headed it home.

Utah’s test in round two will likely be tougher. The Utes are set to face No. 1 seeded UNLV in the semifinal.

“They’re the definition of a team of winners,” Manning said. “They might not play the best game — they can make a hundred mistakes in the game — but at the end of the game, they make the plays to do it. They’re very opportunistic and have the championship mentality.”

Crespo is glad that her college soccer career didn’t end on an ejection, she said.

“I got teary eyed a couple times,” she said, “because I think if we didn’t win this game, that’d be it for me, and nobody wants to end their career on a red card.”

UNLV has its own batch of seniors who want to keep their careers alive.

“They have five or six really good seniors that don’t want to lose,” Manning said.

A win would put the Utes in Saturday’s final. Manning believes that the Utes must win the MWC competition if they want an invitation to the NCAA tournament, he said.

“I feel like if we all work together, there’s not a whole lot of teams that can beat us,” Hair said.

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Tyler Cobb

Lauren Hair struggles to maintain balance under pressure from a Wyoming defender. Hair scored the Utes’ first goal in their 2-0 win.