Soccer: Manning and Co. ready to unleash fury on helpless MWC

By By Natalie Dicou and By Natalie Dicou

By Natalie Dicou

Glance at the U women’s soccer team’s 2007 schedule, notice how it went 13-5-4 and you’ll likely conclude that the Utes had a solid season. You’d be right. However, to coach Rich Manning and the upwardly mobile Utes, it wasn’t nearly good enough.

Last season marked the first in six years that the Utes didn’t get invited to the NCAA Tournament, even though they seemed like a shoo-in in October. From Sept. 9 to Oct. 26 — a 13-game stretch — the Utes didn’t lose a match. By the end of the streak, the Utes were sitting on an 11-2-4 record and had built a résumé that included a huge 1-0 victory over BYU on the road and wins over Pac-Ten foes Arizona, Oregon and Washington.

With Adele Letro — one of the country’s best goal-scorers — leading the way, the Utes had high hopes of improving on their second-round exit from the 2006 NCAA Tournament. However, the team struggled down the stretch and ultimately lost three of its last five matches.

The first chink in the armor appeared when the Utes dropped a pair of road matches to mediocre teams with the season winding down — a 3-0 loss at TCU and a 4-1 loss at Wyoming in the season finale.

To add to Utah’s problems, defenders Amanda Sanchez and Melissa Crespo were issued red cards in the Wyoming game for fouling Cowgirls who the referee judged had a clear path to the goal. Prior to the game, Manning had only seen one player ejected in six years as the Ute head coach. The consequences of that game were severe. For one, Manning believed that the 4-1 defeat to a Wyoming team that finished the season below .500 cost the Utes an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. Second, the Utes would be without Crespo and Sanchez in the first round of the conference tournament — a rematch against Wyoming.

According to Manning’s calculations, the Utes needed to win the MWC Tournament to keep their season afloat, but without two key players, that would be a tall order.

The Utes managed to beat Wyoming 2-0 in the first round, but even with Sanchez and Crespo back in the lineup, Utah couldn’t keep up with UNLV in the second round as the Rebels secured a 2-1 win. The promising season was over.

In January, the team suffered another devastating blow when Letro and starting goalkeeper Lynzee Lee abruptly quit the team for reasons that remain a mystery. Manning and the players were tight-lipped about the duo’s departure, offering only vague explanations.

The coach said the duo “expressed the desire to make changes” and wanted “to get a fresh start somewhere.”

Crespo and midfielder Katy Reineke also expressed their bafflement over the situation, stating that no one saw it coming and that they couldn’t guess at their reasoning for leaving the program.

Letro, who finished the season averaging .85 goals per game — sixth nationally — did not return Chronicle phone calls.

Despite the setbacks, a talented Utah team will return to the pitch next fall. Four freshmen made an impact last season. Forwards Erin Dalley and Lauren Hair proved to be dangerous goal-scorers, and Morgan Skeen and Nicole Cardon were key pieces in Utah’s defense.

Aside from the up-and-coming freshmen, veterans Kelly Isleib and Katy Reineke return to the team. Isleib is the team’s playmaker at midfield and Reineke is, among other things, Utah’s free-kick specialist.

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