Ryan Talbot, Ryan Talbot/Utah State Athletics
Time to pack the bags, again. Head coach Heather Cairns and the Utah State soccer team are moving to their third conference since their first season in 1996 after spending nine years in the Big West Conference and eight in the Western Athletic Conference. In its final season in the WAC, Utah State won its second-straight WAC Tournament title and made its second appearance in the NCAA Tournament in as many seasons. The Aggies topped off the year producing five all-WAC honorees.
Having won four WAC regular-season titles in the last five years, the 2013 Utah State squad makes the dramatic shift to the Mountain West Conference, where the Aggies will see many familiar foes and some very new opponents.
After going 13-3-6 last season with a 6-0-2 WAC record, the Aggies will now take on the 10-match Mountain West schedule. This season, Utah State was picked to finish tied for third with UNLV in the MW Preseason Coaches’ Poll behind San Diego State and New Mexico.
The MW 10-match schedule begins on Oct. 4. The top eight teams will travel to Albuquerque, N.M., for the Mountain West Tournament, which will be held on the campus of New Mexico from Nov. 4-9.
“I think that we have a fantastic schedule this year, in particular the home games in being able to host Nebraska (Sept. 2) and Arkansas (Sept. 13), teams from traditionally great soccer conferences and teams that are on the rise and do well in their conference,” Cairns said. “We also have the traditional match against Utah (Sept. 20) from the Pac-12, so we have a couple games against teams in the power conferences. I think that is what we need to do. We know that the Mountain West is going to be a step up in competition from head to toe, so being able to go through those games in the non-conference portion of our season is really going to help prepare us for the daily grind in the Mountain West.”
The Aggies will play three teams from the Beehive State and one border foe this year. USU will host Utah Valley (Aug. 30) and Weber State (Sept. 22), while traveling to Utah. The Aggies will also travel to Pocatello, Idaho, to take on border-foe Idaho State (Sept. 7).
The Aggies will play several teams that finished in the top of their conferences last season, including San Diego State (First, Mountain West), Utah Valley (First, Great West Conference), Cal State Fullerton (First, Big West Conference) and Idaho State (First, Big Sky Conference). Creighton also was among the top (Second, Missouri Valley Conference).
This season, Utah State will be looking to replace defender Natalie Norris, who won an unprecedented three-straight WAC Defensive Player of the Year honors. She was one of five Aggies to earn all-WAC honors last season.
Utah State will bring back the bulk of its firepower, as 22 of its 33 goals return from last season. Senior forward Jennifer Flynn returns as the Aggies’ leading scorer from last season with seven goals and two assists for 16 points. Fellow senior Mari Miyashiro was tied for second in scoring with four goals and a career-high six assists last year. USU will have to replace Jade Tarver who had 14 points, as well as Norris who had eight points in 2012.
Last season, the Aggie offense scored 33 goals compared to 13 by its opponents. This season, Flynn and Miyashiro will move up top to take on the role as strikers, as both were attacking midfielders in 2012.
Seniors Flynn and Miyashiro are returning all-WAC honorees. Miyashiro was named to the first team, while Flynn was named to the second team and was a WAC all-tournament selection. Both players have floated back and forth between the midfield and the forward positions during their time at Utah State.
The Utah State midfield brings back two starters in senior Jackie Tillotson-Clark and junior Lexie Morgan. Sophomore Maris Hamblin and senior Shay Haddow logged significant minutes last season.
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