Senior forward Lauren Field earned second team all-Mountain West honors in 2003.
Aug. 11, 2004
In two seasons under head coach Rich Manning, the Utah women's soccer program has experienced unparalleled success. With 12 letterwinners returning from last year and one of the nation's top 20 recruiting classes coming into the fold, perhaps the best is yet to come in 2004.
Manning directed Utah to 13 wins and its first-ever NCAA Tournament in 2002. Last year, Manning was named the West Region Coach of the Year by both the NSCAA and Soccer Buzz after the Utes went 16-2-2-setting the school wins record-and claimed their first outright league title with a 6-0 mark in Mountain West Conference play. Utah also captured its first conference tournament title in 2003, advanced to its second consecutive NCAA appearance, and finished in the Top 25 for the first time ever with a No. 24 ranking in the final NSCAA/adidas poll.
Could 2004 be the year Utah makes the jump from being regarded as an up-and-comer to one that is a perennial Top 25 program? The pieces are certainly in place.
Among the seven starters returning from last year are senior midfielder Tracy Stratton Garner and sophomore goalkeeper Ashley Mason. That duo helped Utah rank second in the NCAA in goals-against average (.436) and fifth in shutout percentage (.650) last season. Individually, Mason led the nation in fewest goals allowed per game (.301). Defender Katie Battazzo, a first team all-Mountain West selection in 2002, is back for her sophomore season after taking a year off to recover from two knee surgeries. Up front, all-conference forwards Lauren Field and Amanda Feigt return.
"We have excellent athleticism, good mental toughness and competitiveness," says Manning. "I also think we have a group that will work well together. We have the capability to play with both skill and rhythm, and that's a big goal for this year. I think we can play a more attractive style of soccer than we have the past two years."
In addition to a solid group of returnees, Soccer Buzz ranked Utah's 2004 recruiting class 17th-best in the nation. "With all the new players we have coming in, our top priority is getting the pieces put together as fast as we can," says Manning. "Secondly, we want to remain as good defensively as we have been the past two years. We've been very hard to score on, and as long as you do that you have a chance to win."
The Utes feature a very athletic group up front and a pair of lethal weapons in senior Lauren Field and sophomore Amanda Feigt.
"The challenge for this group is finding out who's going to put the ball in the net," Manning points out. "We have a lot of creators, but some of those players will have to finish with consistency for us to reach our goals."
Field, a second team all-Mountain West pick last season, was the Utes' second-best scorer with seven goals-including two game-winners-and three assists. Field was unable to play in four games and her conditioning was compromised due to a health condition. However, she has responded well to treatment over the summer and should be close to full strength this fall.
"Lauren is an explosive player, a powerful dribbler, and is very good in the air," says Manning. "She can hit a long ball and is also very good on set pieces. On the days she feels good, we're a different team. We always know she's going to give us her best effort."
Feigt burst onto the scene to earn MWC Freshman of the Year honors in 2003. The Sandy, Utah, native also made the NSCAA all-West Region second team and the Soccer Buzz freshman All-America second team. Feigt led the Utes in assists (8) and shots (58), and was third in goals (5) last season. Two of her goals were game-winners.
"Amanda has to be one of the fastest forwards in the country," raves Manning. "Her ability to dribble into open space, stretch the defense, and occupy the attention of the defense creates opportunities for everyone."
The Utes will be without heralded recruit Adele Letro for the second consecutive year. Letro, who has experience with the U.S. U-16 National Team, sat out the 2003 season as a non-qualifier before undergoing knee surgery this past July. "Adele was going to be a major contributor for us, and we will have to overcome that," concedes Manning. "She is quick, mobile, very skillful, has a very sophisticated sense of the game, and is an excellent passer."
Junior Carisse Winegar played in every game and had eight starts last season, accounting for three goals and four assists. Without Letro, Winegar might be the Utes' most athletic player in terms of strength, speed and power. "Carisse is always going to fight back on defense and do whatever it takes to score a goal," says Manning.
Senior Julie Herdic played in all but two games last season. "She makes great runs off the ball, covers a lot of ground and works very hard," explains Manning. "She is the best defensive forward." Sophomore Mckenzie Joyner played in 18 games at forward last year, but may see more time at defender this season. "Joyner has good speed and is one of our better passers. She is also very two-footed," says Manning.
The newcomers are freshman Chelsea Card and junior Kim Lloyd, a transfer from UC Irvine. Card, the 2004 Southern California Division 1 Offensive Player of the Year, is working her way back from an ACL injury suffered last March in the CIF final. Manning is hopeful Card will be ready to play by midseason. "Chelsea is a tremendous finisher, is powerful and can hold the ball up front. For a powerful player, she has very soft feet," evaluates Manning.
Lloyd started 11 games for UC Irvine last season, scoring five goals and getting three assists. "She is very skillful and very technical, and can dribble in tight spaces," Manning says.
"Tracy's defensive ability and strength in the air as a header are two of the big reasons for our defensive success the past two years," Manning confides. "She is able to tackle and head balls away so that our defenders and goalkeepers are dealing with fewer balls."
Senior Erin Pruitt, who played in 11 games last season, is coming off a good spring and is a consistent all-around midfielder. "Erin has good strength and is very good in the air. She also has good passing skills," adds Manning.
Sophomore Hailey Marsh appeared in four contests in 2003 after joining the team as a walk-on. "Hailey is coming off great spring and has a good touch with her left foot. Expect her to play on the left side," says Manning.
Four newcomers will push the veterans. Kiley Jones was a teammate of Chelsea Card at San Clemente High School and on the Southern California Blues club team. "Kiley and Chelsea played on probably the best high school team in California the past three years and on one of the top club teams in the country," evaluates Manning. "Kiley fits the attacking mid position for our system as well as anyone."
Whitney Dorsey, a Wheat Ridge, Colo., product, and Jones have similar playing styles. "Both of them will get up and down the field, are very good in the air, and have a good touch on the ball," says Manning. Emily Campbell of Hyde Park, Utah, will play at either midfielder or defender. "One of our former summer campers, Emily has improved tremendously in her skill and reading of the game. She is able to hold the ball very well and make the simple passes," says Manning.
Amanda Sanchez, a tough player who is good in the air, will see some time at defensive midfielder. "She has good leadership qualities that will make a strong impact before she is done here," Manning explains.
With Katie Battazzo's return from a knee injury and three starters back from last season, Utah's back row should be solid once again.
"We have several players who gained terrific experience last year while playing against some of the best attacking teams in the country," reflects Manning. "The experience and confidence they gained will serve us well this year."
Sophomores Melissa Wayman and Michelle Deatherage are the returning starters at the center back positions and made for a tough combination last season. After Deatherage was moved to the middle for the final 16 games last year, the Utes allowed only three goals. However, if Battazzo is able to assume her former position, Deatherage is likely to move to outside back, where the coaches feel she will be an excellent attacker.
"Michelle is just flat out mean to the other team's players," explains Manning. "She will do everything it takes not to let the other team get by her."
Wayman, at 5-10, is great in the air and has a good touch on the ball. "Melissa was key to our success and probably didn't get the credit she deserved last season," says Manning. "She loves to compete." Battazzo suffered a severe knee injury late in the 2002 season, but has made an excellent recovery. Along with her playing skills, the addition of her leadership will be a tremendous boost.
"The moment Katie steps on field for the first time will be an incredibly emotional moment for all of us," says Manning. "She may be the best header of the ball I've ever worked with. She's great in the air, is a good tackler and has a good sense of positioning defense."
At outside back, sophomore Tasia Duarte returns after starting 13 of the final 14 games last season. "Tasia makes simple passes, plays at a good pace and keeps the ball moving well," says Manning. If Mckenzie Joyner isn't playing up front, her attacking background will allow her to contribute offensively from an outside back position. "She is fast and has improved her positional sense tremendously," points out Manning.
Freshman center back Melissa Crespo was rated a Top 50 recruit by Soccer Buzz. The Milpitas, Calif., native is a very good one-on-one defender, and has a good sense of group and team defense. "She has very good communication and organizational skills, which is important at that position," says Manning. Lindie Theurer, a redshirt freshman from Skyline High School, joined the team in the spring after not playing last fall. She will vie for playing time at left and right back.
Ashley Mason looks to build on an excellent freshman season, after which she was named second team all-West Region by the NSCAA. She also made the Soccer Buzz freshman All-America second team and was a second team all-MWC co-goalkeeper. Mason had eight complete-game shutouts and contributed to two others to set the school record.
Glennis Donnelly, who has played for the Ute softball team the past two years, will join the soccer team this fall as a fifth-year senior. She was an NJCAA All-American in both sports at Meramec College before transferring to Utah.
"Glennis is a tremendous athlete and already has the skills necessary to become a good college goalkeeper. It's just a matter of getting her experience at this level and with our team," evaluates Manning.
Freshman Amy Edman, a graduate of Highland High School, also joins the Utes this season. After suffering a knee injury last fall, her sharpness and conditioning may be lagging at the start of practice. "Amy is a very good shot-stopper," says Manning. "She's one of those goalkeepers who just keeps the ball out of the net, and if the shot's within close range she's not going to give up a rebound."
The Utes face six teams that made the NCAA Tournament last year, including Stanford, UCLA and San Diego on the road and BYU at home. Utah's lineup of nonconference opponents also features the defending champions from the Pacific-10 (UCLA), Big 12 (Colorado) and Sun Belt (Denver) conferences.
In their first-ever Utah Fall Classic on Labor Day weekend, the Utes play San Francisco and Oregon. Gonzaga and Washington State also visit Ute Field this season.
"We have road games against some of the elite teams in the country," Manning says. "We're not just playing good teams, but we're doing it in environments where it's tough to be successful. We feel that experience will harden our players for the conference schedule and hopefully the postseason."
"We have a team that has the talent and experience necessary to win another conference championship," concludes Manning. "We're going to do everything we can to repeat in a conference that is never easy. Even the teams that might not be having the most successful season from a win-loss standpoint are going to be tough to beat. The goalkeepers and the defenses throughout the conference are outstanding, and that's going to keep the games really tight."