Even after beating Idaho State in overtime Thursday night, some players on the Utah women's soccer team weren't exactly doing cartwheels afterward. In fact some were even in tears.

That's because the Utes knew they didn't play their best and had come within seconds of being eliminated in the first round of the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight year. The Utes needed a penalty kick by sophomore Katy Reineke with 30 seconds left to tie the score and send it into overtime, where they prevailed on a goal by Amanda Feigt.

Perhaps the lackluster performance and skin-of-their-teeth victory will serve the Utes well today when they take on defending national champion Portland at 5 p.m. at Ute Field.

"We can't be afraid of anything now," said Ute goalkeeper Ashley Mason, who allowed two goals Thursday, after allowing just one in her previous 10 games. "We came back twice from behind and we're excited to play Portland and give them a good game."

The Ute defense made a couple of mistakes that resulted in goals. A slick ball was part of the problem, but Mason admitted that her timing was off all night.

"There was a lot of gift-giving out there," said Ute coach Rich Manning. "We were giving them gifts and we got a couple of gifts.

"When you get to the NCAA Tournament, there's some pressure going on and some nerves."

Manning knows his team must play much better to defeat the Pilots today.

Portland (15-3-3), ranked 6th in soccer polls, has several players returning from last year's national championship team, including junior defender Stephanie Lopez and junior midfielder Angie Woznuk. Michelle Enyeart was named West Coast Conference freshman of the year.

Besides playing better defense, the Utes know they need to capitalize on the scoring chances to win. Against Idaho State the Utes had 30 shots, including 15 shots on goals, but only converted on two besides the penalty kick.

"I don't think I was being very smart with my shots, so they weren't very good shots," said Feigt, who had seven of Utah's shots Thursday.

The last time the Utes made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament was at Provo in 2002, the Utes were beaten by Portland, which went on to win the NCAA title that year as well.

If the Utes win today, there's a chance they could host another NCAA game next week, depending on what happens in the other brackets.


E-mail: [email protected]