OREM — Off to a 2-0-0 start in WAC play, the Utah Valley University women's soccer team seeks to remain atop the initial league standings with another three points when it visits Grand Canyon for this week's lone fixture. The Wolverines and Antelopes kick off at the GCU Soccer Field in Phoenix on Sunday at 2 p.m. MT.
Last week, Utah Valley (4-5-0, 2-0-0 WAC) opened its inaugural WAC season with a home-and-home weekend series with Bakersfield. The Wolverines claimed both matches by identical 2-0 score lines, recording their first shutouts of the season and their second road victory in five tries.
With last Friday's triumph over CSUB in Orem, UVU improved to 8-0-0 all-time in conference openers behind a good offensive performance from forward McKell Salmon. The junior assisted on Kali Stubbs' 35th minute opening score then added the final touches herself with a strike in the 78th minute. Having fired a season-high 22 shots Friday, the Wolverines maintained their attacking presence back in Bakersfield the following Sunday, getting a 12th minute goal from senior Haley Curtis. Stubbs added an insurance goal in the 79th minute for her second tally of the weekend as UVU escaped the opening weekend with six points and no goals conceded.
Having gone the weekend without allowing a goal and recording 11 saves along the way, senior goalkeeper Lauren Sack was tabbed as the WAC's Defensive Player of the Week on Monday. It is the first honor of the season for the two-time Great West Defensive Player of the Year. In 2013, Sack holds a 4-4-0 overall record and leads the conference in saves (44), saves per game (4.89) and save percentage (.800). She has not surrendered a goal in her last 221 minutes of action.
With Sunday's headed goal, Curtis continues to lead the team in goals scored with four. That figure, along with her 24 shots on the year, paces the WAC through the season's first half. With two scores in her last two matches, Stubbs is next with three goals while Baker and freshman Taylor Kirk each own a pair. Lexi Robison, Sheridan Fox and Salmon have each tallied once.
Like Utah Valley, GCU (1-7-0, 0-2-0 WAC) is competing in its inaugural WAC season. Furthermore, the Antelopes are getting their first taste of NCAA Division I competition after making the leap from Division II prior to the start of the 2013 season. The women's soccer team has enjoyed recent success, qualifying for the NCAA DII tournament in 2011. It fell to Seattle Pacific 4-0 in the first round. As an athletic program, GCU has been awarded the Learfield Sports Director's Cup the last two years, an accolade given to the top-performing school in DII athletics.
This season, GCU has just one victory — a 1-0 win at Colorado State — and dropped its first two WAC matches last weekend at Seattle U and at Idaho, both by scores of 3-1. The `Lopes have scored just three goals through eight contests, getting tallies last weekend from freshman midfielder Taylor Layton and senior midfielder Cierra Valdez. Cassie Beckwith, a sophomore forward, scored GCU's first goal of the season, the game-winner over CSU.
Nine starters return this season from an Antelope squad that went 9-7-2 overall and 8-4-2 in the PacWest in 2012. Included among those returners are senior forward Samantha Bush and junior midfielder Gabriella Zavala de Rojas — each named to the All-PacWest second team after tying for the team lead in goals scored at five apiece.
GCU opens the weekend Friday night when it hosts Bakersfield at 8 p.m. MT.
Sunday marks the first-ever meeting between the two sides. It is also the first time that Utah Valley has played a match in Arizona since Sept. 28, 2008, when it fell, 3-1, to Northern Arizona in Flagstaff.
The WAC season rolls on for the Wolverines next week as it kicks off its longest homestand of the season. UVU will play four consecutive matches at Clyde Field, beginning with a match against Idaho on Friday, Oct. 4. Seattle visits Orem two days later while Kansas City and New Mexico State will be on hand the following week.
Kellen Hiser is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.