Utah Soccer’s Season Ends at the Hands of Duke in the NCAA Tournament

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Utah Soccer’s Season Ends at the Hands of Duke in the NCAA Tournament

By Ethan Pearce and Carlos Padilla

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The University of Utah women’s soccer team saw an end to their 2019 season last Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Utes put up a valiant effort against No. 12 Duke, but ultimately came up short by a final score of 4-0. The Utes ended the year with an official record of 8-9-4, going 3-5-3 in conference play.

“We fought hard this whole season,” senior Aleea Gwerder said to Utah Athletics. “We kept our heads up and stayed together until the end.”

While the 2019 season came to an end, a look back shows that the Utes had a year full of improvement, success and several standout performances. 

The season kicked off with a bang as Utah went on a quick road trip to the Deep South. After falling to both Clemson and Alabama, the Utes returned to Salt Lake. This year, the opening home game was particularly special as it doubled as the inaugural game at the newly built Utes stadium. Utah came out victorious in their home opener against Utah State by a final score of 3-0.

Utah then went to work to make the most of their pre-conference schedule. A victory over the Cal Poly Mustangs was followed by a bitter defeat to the sworn rival, No. 10 BYU. After dropping one to the Team Down South, the Utes caught fire. Through the rest of their pre-conference season, the Utes did not lose a single game. The Utes took victories over Boise State, Nevada and San Diego while drawing once with Butler. 

All three victories were shutouts thanks to star goalkeeper Carly Nelson. The senior from Timpanogos High School had another standout season. By the time conference play began, Nelson had only allowed seven goals to be scored in nine games. Nelson was nominated Pac-12 Player of the Week after her incredible performances against Butler and San Diego. 

Before their first Pac-12 game against the Arizona State Sundevils, the Utes boasted a record of 5-3-1. Up to this point, Utah had also kept their new stadium blemish-free, winning three straight games on their turf. The Utes had an offensive system that kept the ball moving and the defense on their toes. Standout shooters such as Courtney Talbot, Ireland Dunn and Holly Daugirda kept the Utah offense formidable. 

Expectations were high going into season play. The Utes wanted to further their campaign towards the title. With a competitive Pac-12 schedule, the Utes would need to perform at a high level in order to stay afloat in conference play.

They started off fairly well in Pac-12 play, not losing in their first three matches with two ties and a win, and they still remained undefeated at home. Having not lost in over a month, the Utes were riding high as they made a trip down to Los Angeles to face both UCLA and USC, two ranked teams.

Their momentum came to a halt there. After two losses in two games, they were back down to Earth. They fought hard against No. 4 USC, losing in overtime, then fell to UCLA a few days later.

Returning home, they kept their home record intact with a 0-0 slugfest, ending in a tie vs. Arizona. After that, they saw their undefeated streak at home come to an end, losing to Cal 2-1. That began a bit of a skid, losing to No. 2 Stanford and Washington State to bring the losing streak to three in a row. 

The Utes managed to pull an upset over No. 21 Washington to flip their momentum, and then beat Colorado at home on Senior Night. With their regular season schedule over, all they could do was hope that their resume was enough to entice the selection committee to include them in the field of 64 teams in the NCAA tournament. 

Hope was faint, but their hard work all season was rewarded when the committee announced that the Utes made the tournament. They would play No. 12 Duke in the first round on the road in North Carolina. It was a tough request for an overmatched team, but the Utes, riding hot on the heels of two straight victories to close the year, were up for the challenge.

However, Duke proved to be too strong and was able to secure their expected victory in the first round of the tournament, ending Utah’s season.

“We showed teamwork and competitive spirit along the way,” head coach Rich Manning said to Utah Athletics. “Our eight seniors leave with a pair of NCAA Tournament trips and top-four finishes in the Pac-12. Most importantly, they were great ambassadors for the University of Utah on and off the field. We will always be proud of them.”

 

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