Utah kicks off conference play with confidence: “Bring it on”


— Chris Samuels

The warm-up games are over, and now the real season begins.
Utah will kick off Pac-12 play with one of the conference’s top teams when they welcome No. 4 Stanford to Ute Field on Friday.
The Utes are 1-5 all-time against the Cardinal, but with Utah’s strong 17-game unbeaten streak at home, this time could show a different result. The Utes, however, are a little banged up and go into Friday’s contest with a squad that is not at 100 percent.
“We’re always disappointed when people aren’t able to train and play,” said head coach Rich Manning.
The Utes made it through their non-conference schedule unbeaten, but they’re hardly unscathed, as injuries have cast a shadow over the promising start to the season. Sophomore Audrey Gibb, senior Ashton Hall and juniors Kaycee Buckley and Nykell Seymour are all currently out. With injuries to some key players, Manning needs some of his reserve players to step up and play some important roles.
“This is the deepest team we have ever had,” Manning said. “No matter who is on the field, we expect to go out there and win Friday.”
Stanford is currently unbeaten through their first nine games, including victories over traditional powers North Carolina and Florida.
The task of beating the Cardinal will not be easy for the Utes, and it will be just the start to a challenging conference schedule. Manning believes the Pac-12 is the most difficult conference to play in, and with four ranked teams, including two in the top-5, he may just be right.
The road actually gets more daunting following Friday’s game as the Utes travel to California to face No. 1 UCLA.
Junior Ali Allen is not too worried about playing the two top teams in the conference right off the bat.
“Bring it on,” Allen said. “Let’s get this out of the way. We are definitely up for the challenge.”
Manning doesn’t care much at all about having to play Stanford and the Bruins back-to-back. He acknowledges the cliché of “one game at a time,” and doesn’t care where each team falls in the schedule, as long as his team comes away with points.
“We don’t have a conference tournament,” Manning said. “Three points for a win, one for a tie. The most points wins.”
According to Manning, the Utes don’t need to get three points every time. As long as the Utes come away with some points, he is happy.
“It’s really important just to say ‘OK, we have three points on the line Friday. Let’s try to get a point or three,’ ” Manning said.
After losing to Texas A&M in the first round of last season’s short-lived NCAA tournament run, Utah is hungry to experience more. A good start in-conference would be a big step to getting back to the big dance.
“I think the girls got a taste of it last year, and we have high expectations still,” Manning said.
The Utes and Cardinal kickoff at 3 p.m. The match will also be televised on Pac-12 Networks.
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