Oct. 3, 1997
Salt Lake City -- When women's soccer kicked in as a varsity sport at Utah three years ago, few predicted an instant impact. After all, new programs generally suffer from growing pains. Surprisingly, the only growing pains the Ute soccer team has encountered are in the overstuffed bleachers. On the field, the growth has been fast and pain free.
The debut 1995 Ute team wasted no time making a presence--falling just short of a .500 record. Fans loved the first-year product and packed Ute Soccer Field game in and game out. The Utes improved their 7-8-2 opening-year record to a sparkling 12-6-1 mark last year. Third-year Head Coach Amy Freeman Winslow and her now veteran troops promise an even better product this fall.
Here's why: The 1997 Utes return 16 letter winners and 10 starters from a team that Freeman Winslow felt should have made postseason play. And those returnees have a score to settle. The Utes' 12-6-1 record included a 1-3-1 Western Athletic Conference mark--placing them fifth in the Pacific Division and out of the WAC Tournament field.
"It's funny. Any other time, we would have been excited about a 12-6-1 season for a second-year program," muses Freeman Winslow. "But missing out on the WAC Tournament has left a bad taste in our mouths and really focused the team on a common goal," she adds.
With memories of the exclusion gnawing at their pride, the Utes spent the off-season vigorously preparing to take the next step. As a result, they reported to fall camp in top notch condition.
"Our goal is to have as good a season as last year, but to make the WAC Championships," Freeman Winslow says.
The Utes will have to do without leading scorer Jacki Doman, who graduated. As a senior, Doman accumulated 20 goals and nine assists for a total of 49 points--including five game-winning goals. She was named to the 1996 all-WAC first team and all-West Region second team. "Losing Jacki will prove both good and bad. We've lost a lot of scoring power, but I'm confident that our juniors will step up and fill the void Jacki left," Freeman Winslow says.
Increased knowledge will also go a long way toward filling the void. The last two years have been a state of constant learning for the Utes, and Freeman Winslow has learned a thing or two herself.
"One problem with youth is that things can start out very well, but any setback can be difficult to get around," says Freeman Winslow. "Last season I let the fall conditioning slide a little after I saw how hard the players had worked during the summer. This year, that won't happen. The team needs to remain strong and the players will be held accountable," she warns.
Part of Freeman Winslow's plan to start the season off well includes a tough opening round. In their first weeks of competition, the Utes will face California and Texas A&M--teams ranked in the Top 25. Freeman Winslow hopes the tough competition will provide the impetus the team needs to focus quickly on the difficult season ahead.
"The second season is always rough in terms of transition. This year won't be a transition year. The juniors have great ideas for improving the team and I have seen them implement their ideas on and off the field," Freeman Winslow says.
Certainly she looks forward to a season with an upperclass-laden team. A program that began with 16 freshmen has now matured into a team of 11 juniors and one senior. "I have watched these women for two years and I've seen them acquire a good solid feel for the game," Freeman Winslow reflects. "They have learned together and have set a precedent for training. I couldn't have asked for a better class to start a program."
The upperclassmen have taken it upon themselves to ensure team unity, including implementing a program to integrate the incoming freshmen. During the preseason, each freshman was handed over to an upperclassman to be incorporated into the Ute program. The outcome, Freeman Winslow hopes, will be to eliminate the separation of classes and build a strong and united team.
Team diversity is broad--the Utes hail from eight states--but Freeman Winslow expects team cohesion to play a big role in Utah's future success.
"We recruit nationally, not regionally, and having recruited players from all different walks of life creates a basis for understanding," Freeman Winslow says.
Anchoring the team this season are co-captains Amanda Schmutz, Jessica Narajowski and Tara McNeil. Schmutz, a defensive sweeper, has started every game in Utah's two-year history and was named Utah's Defensive Player of the Year in both 1995 and '96, and Most Inspirational Player in 1996. Narajowski, defensive center midfielder, is moving to the back field--positioned behind Schmutz at sweeper.
"Jess brings a lot of leadership to the defensive line. I am expecting great things from her this season," Freeman Winslow says.
McNeil is expected to help pick up Doman's slack. During spring ball, McNeil, playing mostly at forward, showed she is up to the task.
Sophomore Staci Burt will also be relied upon heavily in the scoring column. Last season, she scored 22 points (nine goals and four assists), which ranked second on the team. Burt was named to the 1996 all-WAC second team. "Jacki (Doman) had only two years to be a standout player, but Staci has four years to develop and I think she is going to surprise some people," predicts Freeman Winslow.
Sophomore Karen Boardman, another 1996 all-WAC second team member, returns to the back field. An impressive defender, Boardman also tallied a goal and an assist last season.
Tawni Martineau will retain her position as starting goalkeeper for a third year. Last season, Martineau started 13 games, playing 1,170 minutes. She stopped 80 attempted shots on goal, allowed 19, and notched two shutouts.
Ashley Miller joins the Ute staff with intentions of strengthening Utah's goalkeeping. Miller, a former Kentucky goalkeeper, is the new graduate assistant goalkeeper coach. With her help, Utah's goalkeeping will be at its prime.
Remarks Freeman Winslow about the goalkeeping situation, "Tawni and (backup keeper) Sarah Englis trained extremely hard this summer, plus we now have a goalkeeper coach. She will provide them day in and day out training, which they were not given last season."
Freeman Winslow is relying upon the returning players to unite and ground the team. She hopes that two seasons of intensive training and competition will carry her team through the season ahead. "Last year we worked on our attack; our big focus was to score. During the spring we focused on defense. We need to continue to attack, while keeping out the opponents and stopping scoring in our box," Freeman Winslow says.
Another pillar the Utes have used for support is the local soccer community. "Utah has the highest number of soccer players per capita of any state in the nation," states Freeman Winslow. "It helps to have such popularity when trying to build a winning program and Utah offers an exciting brand of soccer."
When the now-experienced Utes take the field this fall, they will meet their hardest competition yet. But, thanks to their large, loyal fan base, they won't be alone.