Amanda Feigt, Hailey Marsh and Jen Christoffers celebrate a Utah goal last season. (Credit: Russell Isabella)
Aug. 8, 2006
The time is now.
When Rich Manning became the man in charge of the Utah women's soccer program four years ago, he formulated a plan to elevate the Utes among the nation's elite programs. Working diligently with his staff to recruit and develop the talent needed to achieve such a feat, Manning now feels all of the elements are in place.
"We've really been pointing to this season for several years," confides Manning, whose teams have averaged 14 wins and made the NCAA Tournament each year during his tenure.
"We have a mature program now. The team is filled with players who have two to three years of experience at a high level with us, and have experienced success. The seniors are the first players we recruited. Having people in the program who know what we want to do, how we want to do it, and have the experience to apply it, all of those things point to a breakthrough season for us."
A schedule that will test his team's readiness has been assembled. Ten of Utah's 18 regular-season games come against teams that earned NCAA Tournament bids a year ago.
"One of our goals will be to play well on more of a consistent basis against tough opponents--not to get too high or too low," Manning illustrates. "Hopefully we'll be ready and we'll have success right away. If not, we'll learn from that. That's the only way we're going to become one of the best."
In addition to their NCAA experience, the Utes have won two regular-season championships (2003 and '05) and a pair of tournament titles (2003 and '04) in the Mountain West Conference, and knocked off five Top 25 teams since 2002. Yet, Manning feels his program is capable of achieving so much more.
"That last couple of seasons we've gained enough experience against good teams that we will have confidence, yet we have fallen short enough times of that we will have tremendous hunger to go further," Manning explains. "Mentally and emotionally we are in a really good position."
With nine starters and 18 letterwinners returning, Utah's supply of talent is both well rounded and deep. The Utes made a clean sweep of the Mountain West Conference postseason awards in 2005. In addition to Manning earning Coach of the Year accolades, Amanda Feigt was named the Offensive Player of the Year, Melissa Wayman the Defensive Player of the Year, and Adele Letro the Freshman of the Year. In addition, Ashley Mason was named second team all-conference. All four players are back, with Feigt, Wayman and Mason entering their senior seasons.
"When you talk about Amanda Feigt, Adele Letro, Jen Christoffers and Carisse Winegar, there's speed and explosiveness," Manning raves. "All four can put a defense on its heels. Even when they aren't doing damage themselves, they are going to occupy so much attention that it's going to create space for their teammates.
Feigt scored a team-high seven goals last season--including five in MWC games--and had two assists. Manning expects a great final season from the Sandy, Utah, native, who has shown improvement every year.
"Her confidence level and her mental toughness are greatly improved," evaluates Manning. "She's also able to grind out a full 90 minutes now, and she's dangerous at any time. She scored some of the most important goals of our season last year, and they were scorer's goals, opportunistic goals."
Letro made the 2005 Soccer Buzz Magazine all-West Region freshman team. The sophomore from Davis, Calif., led the Utes in both goals (7) and assists (6).
"Every single game last season, Adele created opportunities for herself, or got on the end of opportunities," reflects Manning. "If she can do a better job of finishing those chances, the sky's the limit for her."
Christoffers, an explosive sophomore from Phoenix, Ariz., played in nine games last season before suffering a knee injury.
"We can put her on the field at a moment's notice, and she will raise the energy level of the game. That's a nice card to be able to play," confesses Manning.
Winegar, an athletic instate product from Bountiful, returns for her senior season after taking a redshirt year. Marsh, another senior, played in 21 games last season and scored six goals in 19 games two years ago.
Card, back for her junior year, contributed a goal and an assist last season. After being slowed by knee problems the first two years of her career, she is healthy heading into 2006.
"Hailey and Chelsea are both goal scorers," says Manning. "We are looking for them to be able to hold the ball, get into good position and score goals for us. Carisse gives us another athlete who can cause problems."
"Melissa is someone who just mentally and physically dominates the space she's in," says Manning. "She's going to win the balls in the air and on the ground, and help us win a lot of loose balls. And she's able to bring the ball forward and create opportunities. She's a player whom you notice right away because she has a tremendous impact on the game."
Junior Kiley Jones is one of the Utes' most versatile players. Jones started all 22 games last season, and contributed a goal and an assist.
"She does a lot of the dirty work in the midfield area and covers a lot of ground," explains Manning. "She wins balls for us. In the midfield you need players who can confidently connect passes, and she's terrific at that."
Katy Reineke, who has a lethal left foot, made 11 starts and played in every game last season as a freshman. The Salt Lake City East High product tied for the third-most points (10) on the team, notching three goals and four assists.
"Katy had a very good freshman season, and since then has improved tremendously in her offensive game," evaluates Manning. "She can hit long passes, she can hit long shots, and she can hit set pieces."
Junior Whitney Dorsey appeared in all 22 games a year ago, starting half of those. A creative offensive player, the Wheat Ridge, Colo., native had a pair of goals and four assists in 2005.
"Whitney is one of our better offensive players in that she understands where the open spaces are. She can find players that are in a good position ahead of her and set them up," explains Manning.
Paola Marsenaro has made tremendous strides since joining the Utes as a walk-on two years ago. The junior from Keans, Utah, played in 12 games last season, her first on the field, "She has a great feel for the game, is clean on the ball and is very good in tight spaces," points out Manning.
One of the hardest shots on the team might belong to Danielle Sample, a Salt Lake City product who redshirted her first season. "She is a very physical player who has a cannon of a free kick off her right foot," Manning says.
The newcomer to the group is Kelly Isleib, who will play as an attacking midfielder. The Park City, Utah, native was named a 2005 NSCAA All-American. She was also an Under-20 U.S. National Team pool player in 2006. Isleib tore an ACL last February but is expected to be ready to play by the second week of the season.
"Kelly is very unique in that she can create opportunities four different ways. She can break you down on the dribble, she can pass, she can score herself, and she is excellent on set pieces," outlines Manning. "You can also give her the ball under pressure, and she can hold it. You put all of that together in someone who is very passionate about the game, and you have a very special player."
"We have several players who have logged a lot of minutes, have had experience against top-level opponents, and have been successful at keeping them out of the net," illustrates Manning. "We come into this season with a lot of confidence, and I think we're going to be hard to score on."
Junior Katie Battazzo is the veteran leader of the group. A first team all-Mountain West pick as a freshman in 2002, Battazzo was out two years while recovering from a severe knee injury. Battazzo returned to the field last season and started 10 of the 15 games she played.
"She got a good year of experience in last year," explains Manning. "Physically, she's returning to the form she had as a freshman. She's a great tackler and she's awesome in the air. Not only is she tall, but she also had a nose for ball."
Tasia Duarte has missed parts of the last two seasons with knee injuries, but is healthy heading into her senior year. The Placentia, Calif., native played in 10 games last season. "She is physically tough and a great tackler," evaluates Manning.
Mckenzine Joyner, another senior, has improved tremendously since her freshman year and has been a solid performer. A two-footed player from Mapleton, Utah, Joyner had 12 starts in 20 games last season.
"She has a good understanding of team defense, so she's good on helping," points out Manning. "She's excellent at helping start the attack because she's very clean with the ball."
Junior Melissa Crespo, who made 18 starts a year ago, is versatile and can play at any of the backfield positions. She is also an excellent tackler and very good in the air for her size.
"Melissa's one our better soccer players," confides Manning. "When she gets the ball, you know she's going to do the right thing."
"Amanda gives us a coach on the field back there," says Manning about his personnel shift. "She is a good organizer who keeps everyone in the right place. Amanda is also just tough and mean."
Campbell, who can play on either side, appeared in 15 games last season. "She is very skillful, plays with good pace, and has tremendous fitness," says Manning.
Freshman Jena Roberts is a former first team all-state selection from Centerville, Utah. "Jena's going to be a nice player for us," says Manning. "She has good pace and is a good tackler."
Entering her senior season, Mason ranks first at the U. in goals against average (.666), first in shutouts (21.5), and third in saves (219).
"The thing you want the most out of a goalkeeper is to make the opponent to earn every goal they get," Manning explains. "Of the goals we gave up last year, all them were ones that couldn't be prevented. She is great in the air and her foot skills are tremendous: those two things go a long way toward preventing goals. It gives our team a lot of confidence knowing that she is back there."
Lynzee Lee, a Soccer Buzz Magazine Top 100 Recruit in 2005, will step onto the field for the first time this season. After breaking her leg last summer, Lee took a redshirt year but was able to practice the later part of the season and in the spring.
A native of Kalispell, Mont., Lee played her senior year at Alta High School in Sandy, Utah. She was an Olympic Development Program national pool player in 2003, and impressed Manning with her ability to raise her level of play in big games.
"Lynzee is one of the most athletic players in college soccer," raves Manning. "She is strong, she is quick, and she is explosive. She can get outside the box to clear balls. She can get to shots in the corners of the goal, allowing her to cover a lot of the frame. And, her strength allows her to go up in a crowd and grab a ball."
Emalee Rogers, who played in five games last year as a freshman, had surgery to repair a torn left ACL on June 29 and will take a redshirt season.
Amy Edman, a product of Salt Lake City's Highland High School, was out with knee injuries the past two years. However, Edman was able to get back on the field last spring and should provide the Utes with a solid third keeper this season.
"Now that she's been able to stay healthy for a period of time, Amy's athleticism is coming back," says Manning. "She is one of those goalkeepers who just finds a way to keep the ball out of the net."
"The tone of the season will be set by our ability to deal with the challenges of our schedule and having a target on our back," outlines Manning. "We're not going to sneak up on anyone anymore. Can we consistently play with excellence, and can we consistently measure up to that highest level? Those are the questions we have to answer."
"I like where this team is and how far we've come, but we want to be among the best," Manning continues. "When you climb a mountain the first part goes quickly. But it's steepest at the top, and the going gets slower and tougher. We're ready to embark on the steeper part of the climb."
Since Manning took over as Utah's head coach in 2002, the Utes have the best winning percentage in Mountain West Conference games (.820), followed by BYU (.760), UNLV (.560) and San Diego State (.500). Manning expects those same four teams to be atop of the league standings in 2006.
"The conference has improved tremendously. But, our nonconference schedule should prepare us for conference play, and hopefully put us in position for an NCAA at-large bid. But, a goal of ours is to perform better in the conference tournament this year and earn an automatic NCAA bid. We want to be strong from start to finish."