The Utes defeated arch-rival BYU 3-2 in their first NCAA appearance this season.
Dec. 5, 2002
SALT LAKE CITY -
The Utah women's soccer program concluded it's best season to date with it's first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Utes 13-4-3 season record is the best finish Utah has had since the program was established in 1995. Utah placed second in the Mountain West Conference with a 4-1-1 league mark.
"The 2002 season was filled with positive results," remarked Head Coach Rich Manning. "Victories over Portland, Kentucky, and Washington State were memorable. We also had a good Mountain West Conference season, finishing second. We ended on a high note as well, making the NCAA tournament for the first time and defeating BYU in the first round."
Utah began the season knocking off some of the top schools in the nation. In the season opener, the Utes blanked No. 4 Portland, 2-0. Sophomore Julie Herdic and senior Shauna Gurr-Bingham rallied to score in the impressive non-conference win. The following week, junior Missy Dennis led the way in a 2-1 victory over No. 18 Kentucky. Utah also collected a big win over Washington State, 3-0, which went on to finish third in the Pac-10.
The Utes recorded only two losses during the regular season, one to Saint Mary's (2-1) and the other to in-state foe BYU (2-1). Before facing the Cougars in the season showdown, Utah was on a six-game unbeaten streak.
Utah's impressive season landed them into the top 25 for an eight week stretch. Its highest ranking was the No. 23 spot in the SoccerBuzz.com poll. The Utes also spent most of the season amongst the top 10 teams in the NSCAA Western regional poll.
In the MWC Tournament, Utah edged Wyoming 1-0 before being beaten out by New Mexico in the second round, 1-0. Utah's only other loss of the season was in the NCAA Tournament following their first-ever win over arch-rival BYU, 3-2. The win against the Cougars, which was the first in 13 tries, was experienced by a lively crowd of over 1,500 fans at BYU's South Field. In the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the Portland Pilots avenged their season-opening loss by knocking out the Utes, 3-0 to advance to the Sweet 16.
"The first round victory over BYU will always be a great memory," said Manning. "The atmosphere at the game was electric. And the game was as dramatic as any that I've been involved with. It was a great advertisement for college soccer."
"However, the best part of our season was the teamwork that the players displayed on a daily basis. They unselfishly put the team goals ahead of individual ones. It is important to recognize the team members for the sacrifices they made for the good of the group. It was special to see us reap the rewards for doing the right thing and putting the team first." Although the Utes' dreams of a Sweet 16 appearance were relinquished, Utah tallied many honors along the way. First-year Head Coach Rich Manning was awarded MWC Coach of the Year honors after turning Utah's women's soccer program into a national contender. Manning came to Utah after spending four years (1998-2001) on the coaching staff at Santa Clara, where he helped guide the Broncos to an NCAA Championship.
The conference named six Utah players to the all-MWC team. Named to the first team for the Utes were midfielder Katie Battazzo, forward Gurr-Bingham and defender Maren Harper. Earning second-team all-league honors were forward Dennis, defender Megan Maxwell and defender Jen Williams.
Maxwell was also named to the Soccer America Team of the Week on Oct. 30 after helping the Utes to a 5-1 MWC win over San Diego State. Teammate Herdic obtained credit from the MWC after racking up the first hat-trick of her career against Idaho State, 5-1. On Sept. 16 the sophomore forward was named MWC Player of the Week.
Gurr-Bingham made her mark in the program's record book this season after leading the Utes in points and assists. The forward tied former Ute star Staci Burt with 21 career assists. The tying assist came against Wyoming on Oct. 10, when she connected with teammate Tracy Stratton for the Utes' first goal of the game. Gurr-Bingham also moved into the third-place spot in points and goals after jumping ahead of former Ute standout Jacki Doman. The senior is currently ranked third in the Ute record book in points (71) and goals (30).
Utah's stellar goalkeepers and overall defense were acknowledged not only by the MWC but also the NCAA. Keepers Lynnsey Asay-Kimball and Hills-McBeth were both ranked within the top-30 in goals-against average. At the end of the year, junior Asay-Kimball was placed at the No. 21 spot in this category. She was as high as number six in the country.
The Utes' nationally-ranked defense finished the season 30th overall in goals-against average (0.85). Throughout the year Utah was also ranked within the top 15 programs in the country in winning percentage.
The women's soccer program's success has gone further than on the field, as two Utes received academic recognition. Seniors Harper and Hills-McBeth were named to the 2002 Verizon Academic All-District VIII Soccer Team after remarkable strides in the classroom. Utah was the only team within the MWC to have players earn this recognition.
Harper was also named to the Verizon Academic All-America first team after upholding a 4.0 GPA, while pursuing a major in political science. The defender surpassed herself into the elite of her class by accomplishing this honor.
"Maren was instrumental to the team's success this season," admits Manning. " As captain, she provided great and stable leadership to the team. As a center defender, she organized the entire defense."
"Our defense was one of the best in the country, and Maren's play was a big factor in that. As a student and person, I cannot think of a better representative of our team and of the University of Utah. Maren is a great person with a heart of gold. She is very deserving of this honor and we are very proud of her."
Unfortunately, the closing of the 2002 season means the graduation of six seasoned veteran's. The Utah program will be sad to say good-bye to Gurr-Bingham, Harper, Hills-McBeth, Maxwell, Tate and Vasconcellos.
"I think it is important to recognize the contributions of the seniors," remarks Manning. "It's always hardest on the seniors when a coaching change occurs. These players kept the team united and focused from day one. Any time we stumbled, the seniors stayed positive and determined. It kept all of us from doubting ourselves. Lisa Vasconcellos, Katie Tate, Shauna Gurr-Bingham, Maren Harper, Courtney Hills-McBeth and Megan Maxwell deserve a ton of credit. I'm so happy that they were rewarded for their faith in the group."
With the loss of the six seniors, the coaching staff will be looking to rebuild the Utes' attack. The good news is that the new senior class includes nine experienced players. Up-and-coming seniors include Asay-Kimball, Bobbie Benegas, Amber Brower, Dennis, Genny Grimm, Esther Imotan, Kari Keddington, Heather Wilhelm-Carter and Jen Williams.
Back to the drawing board will be the theme for Manning and his coaching staff as they seek to build on this season's success and accomplishments.