Utah loses women’s soccer NCAA chance

By By Natalie Dicou

By Natalie Dicou

The players of the U women’s soccer team sauntered off the field with tears in their eyes Thursday afternoon after their season ended on a sour note. The Utes fell in a 2-1 heartbreaker to UNLV in the semifinals of the Mountain West Conference tournament.

Suddenly the Utes, who had lofty hopes for a postseason run, found themselves in the off-season.

The early exit was bitterly disappointing for senior Melissa Crespo, who stepped off the field for the final time as a Ute.

“We had some unlucky breaks, we had some chances,” Crespo said, “but the ball wouldn’t bounce our way. It happens.”

Both of UNLV’s goals were scored because of Utah’s miscommunications.

“The first goal we gave up was just an unfortunate goal,” head coach Rich Manning said. “It wasn’t anything we made them earn, and that has, in some respects, been the story of our season.”

In the 21st minute, UNLV’s Jessica Destito gave her team the edge after tapping in a shot as the Utah goalkeeper and a Utah defender collided.

Despite giving up a goal, Manning liked what he saw in the first half.

“I was pleased with the pace and rhythm of the game in the first 25 or 30 minutes,” Manning said. “I thought we were doing exactly what we wanted to do.”

The plan was to slow down the pace of the game. It had been 21 hours since the No. 5 seeded Utes knocked off Wyoming in the first round. UNLV, with the No. 1 seed, had a bye in the first round and were much more rested.

For the plan to work, though, the Utes needed to capitalize on one of their few chances and put the ball in the back of the net.

Trailing by one goal with the clock ticking down in the second half, Manning changed the strategy.

“We went three in the back for the last 30 minutes,” Manning said. “Unfortunately, when you open up, you take the risk of them getting a second goal.”

To Utah’s chagrin, that’s exactly what happened.

UNLV went up by two in the 72nd minute after Utah defender Amanda Sanchez hesitated briefly after thinking UNLV was offsides. Destito followed her pass but it didn’t get to the intended target, UNLV forward Katie Carney.

“All of a sudden, (Destito) decided to sprint after it, and the girl’s really fast,” Sanchez said. “She shot it from the outside and put it away. It was a good shot.”

The goal put the Utes in a two-goal hole with 17 minutes to go, but they fought back, narrowing the score to 2-1 with five minutes to play.

“I was proud of the way we rallied,” Manning said.

In the 86th minute, Katy Reineke chipped a corner kick into the box, and Sanchez deflected it off her midsection and into the goal. It was Sanchez’s first goal of the season.

The stomach shot reinvigorated Utah, which had a few good looks in the waning minutes but couldn’t finish.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that everybody gave their best effort and really wanted to win,” Crespo said.

After getting off two shots in the first half, the Utes tallied 10 shots in the second half to four for UNLV.

As for Crespo, she is still hanging on to the outside chance that the Utes will get an invitation to the NCAA tournament.

“Now, we’ll just practice the rest of the week, cross our fingers and see what happens Monday,” Crespo said.

Manning said he believes that the Utes late-season slump cost them a chance to go to the big dance.

It’s unlikely that three MWC teams will get a nod, and UNLV and BYU are both ahead of Utah in Manning’s mind.

“I think we’re done,” Manning said. “There’s no way (we’ll get into the tournament) because of our RPI and how our end of the season went.”

Either way, Crespo isn’t planning on hanging up her cleats anytime soon. The senior midfielder/defender is considering playing professionally in Europe.

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Tyler Cobb

Lauren hair battles UNLV’s LaChere Anglin for a header in the Utes’ loss Thursday.