Utes look to regain chemistry on the road

— Chris Ayers

In college athletics, winning the in-state recruiting battle has proven time and time again to be crucial. There are bound to be in-state players on any given team throughout the nation. Utah soccer, however, might have more than your average college program.

“There’s good enough talent in Utah that it can form the spine of our team,” said head coach Rich Manning. “Then we can bring in the players from other places that obviously are talented.”

Of the 27 Utes on the roster, 16 of them are from the state of Utah. This poses the question: does Utah really have that much talent, or is it just easier to recruit from within the state?

Manning thinks what his program can offer on and off the field is second to none, and players are starting to realize that. Another thing that may contribute to Ute signings is the potential for some Utah high school athletes to continue their careers with their teammates.

“When they are prospects and talking about where they are going to go to school and they find out ‘Oh you’re going to go to Utah, I want to go to Utah,’ I think that creates excitement,” Manning said.

Having so many players from the same state can affect the team chemistry. Senior Avery Jenkins is one of the 16 players that hail from the Beehive State.

“I have some former teammates, so coming in I was comfortable,” Jenkins said. “Because we are comfortable, we know how each other plays.”

Growing up and playing in Utah, Jenkins got to see firsthand the talent level around her, but she also got to experience some out-of-state opponents in youth tournaments across the nation. To Jenkins, Utah has some of the best soccer in the country.

Some might think that the large presence of in-state athletes would have an effect on some of the out-of-state players, but Manning says it doesn’t matter much upon arrival in Salt Lake City.

“Once they get here it doesn’t matter where you’re from,” Manning said. “We’re all Utah.”

However, no matter how much chemistry Utah has, there are always hard times for any sports teams. Those tough times came for the Utes last weekend when they lost back-to-back games in California. These are the moments where the team’s chemistry is tested.

Utah will need to bounce back fast in order to refocus for this coming weekend when it goes up against Oregon and Oregon State. Manning believes the healing process began right as the final whistle blew last Sunday.

“Part of it is just understanding who we are, how good we are and the things that make us great,” Manning said. “This week in practice is about ‘Let’s get back to the fundamentals that make us great.’ I think there is an opportunity to grow here. There are some lessons there for us to learn. If we want to reach our goals, we have to keep getting better. We’re not where we want to be.”

While the Utes did drop two conference matches last week, Manning was quick to point out that after three games in Pac-12 play, not one team is a perfect 3-0. This helps out Utah, as it was barely over .500 last season and still was able to claim third place in the conference.

“Everybody is going to take hits,” Manning said. “We have to remember that it’s not about running the table. It’s more about focusing on the next game.”

Jenkins views last weekend as a positive and thinks the losses helped more than they hurt.

“Honestly, for me, it pumps me up,” Jenkins said. “I don’t want to lose again. I think it was a key moment for us to take a step back and see what we need to fix.”

She believes in her team but thinks its confidence is lacking.

“I do feel like we could have a little more confidence,” Jenkins said. “So we know that we are a good team. So we can go at every team like that.”

The Utes will try to gain some confidence and conquer their road foes this weekend when they first travel to Eugene to take on the Ducks. Kickoff is scheduled for 5 p.m. MT.

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