Freshmen duo nets first goals, ready for Pac-12 play

— Chris Samuels

Over the weekend, the freshmen forwards were the break-out stars for Utah, with both Natalie Vukic and Mariah Elmer scoring multiple goals.
“It feels so good,” Vukic said. “Me and Mariah were stoked.”
Elmer was the first to score on Friday. She did all the work herself, as she stole the ball, passed a couple defenders and shot the ball into the back of the net. Vukic joined a few minutes later with a goal of her own across from Katie Rigby.
Vukic scored first on Sunday when she chipped a through ball past the keeper. Elmer followed with her own goal. This time, though, it was not a solo effort. Elmer’s sister Mikayla stole the ball at midfield and took a few touches before passing it off to her sister. Mariah’s well-placed shot snuck into the near post.
This was the first time the Elmer sisters have paired up for a goal as Utes. It is a familiar feeling for the two, as they have been playing their whole lives together on club and in high school.
“It’s great to see that,” said head coach Rich Manning. “Those guys can do that against the best teams. We want that to continue.”
Preseason Review
Even before Utah found out who they were playing this season, Manning let his team know they should be undefeated going into conference play. The Utes were able to fulfill Manning’s challenge, going 7-0-2 in their first nine games.
Utah’s success so far is in part due to its defense. Through the first nine games, the Ute defense has only allowed three goals, including posting shutouts in their last three contests. Keeper Lindsey Luke has been a strong force in the back so far this season with 34 saves.
Manning gives credit to Luke for her excellent performance, but he also believes success is more of a team effort.
“It’s all 11 players defending and concentrating on your defense,” Manning said. “If it gets through 10 of us, then Lindsey’s there. She had a great weekend.”
Utah is averaging almost two goals a game, but it was where the goals were coming from that had Manning concerned. Of the 17 goals scored so far this season, only six have come from Ute forwards. Before this past weekend, only one Utah forward had scored.
“The forwards, they weren’t scoring,” Manning said. “Now they are all scoring. We got five goals from forwards this weekend.”
With the Utes’ forwards finally starting to score, the momentum is building toward Pac-12 play. The one thing that might hurt Utah is injuries. If the Utes can stay healthy, they have a strong chance to do well in conference play.
Multiple Roles
Athletes sometimes have to play a role that is uncomfortable to them. Such was the case on Sunday.
Ute fans have grown accustomed to seeing senior Katie Taylor play both at forward and in the midfield, but they got to witness another Ute switching positions against UVU. Injuries forced Rigby out of her normal midfield position and into the back four as a central defender.
Junior Kaycee Buckley and sophomore Audrey Gibb were both unable to play against UVU, and junior Nykell Seymour didn’t play in the second half, which is when Rigby stepped up and moved back to defense. Freshman Janie Kearl, who is listed as a defender, came in as a sub to help fill Rigby’s and Buckley’s roles in the midfield.
“We do have some versatile players,” Manning said. “Avery [Jenkins], Katie Rigby and Janie can play in both the midfield and back. This weekend was great experience, having to do that.”
Manning doesn’t plan on making any more changes to his lineup. He hopes his injured players will heal and everyone can move back to their original positions.
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