Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
Kiley Jones leads Utah into the MWC tournament this weekend.

If you've watched Utah soccer games over the past four years, you may have hardly noticed Kiley Jones, who wears No. 12.

And that's just the way she likes it.

Jones isn't the player scoring a ton of goals like Adele Letro or getting a bunch of assists like Kelly Isleib or making saves in the goal like Lynzee Lee.

The daughter of a former Ute basketball player, Jones just quietly goes about her business, covering large areas of the soccer field and keeping opponents from getting scoring opportunities. She just may be the most valuable player on the Ute team.

"She's such a low-key kid," said Ute coach Rich Manning. "She doesn't want to stand out on the field. She just wants to go about her business and do her thing."

Manning said Jones has allowed some of the high-profile Ute players to excel and that the average fan won't see how valuable Jones is.

"I've tried for two years to get her the honors she merits, but it's hard because the things she does are so subtle," Manning said.

Ever since she came to Utah from San Clemente, Calif., Jones has been a starter for the Utes. She started 22 games each of her first three seasons and has started all 19 games this year. That's 85 and counting.

But this year has been different for the 21-year-old.

Four games into the season, Jones was switched from the midfield position she had played for three-plus seasons to defense, where the Utes were "leaking goals at an alarming pace," according to Manning.

It may not have been her choice, but Jones made the transition without complaint.

"It's different," she said. "I used to play it when I was younger. You have to be more aware of your surroundings. You have to cover each other. When you play midfield, you have the line behind you."

After allowing nine goals in the first four games, the Utes only allowed nine goals in the next 10 games with Jones anchoring the back line.

"She's never really played there on a regular basis before but she's such a natural defender, we thought, 'let's put her in front of the goal and she'll be able to stop some of these teams,"' Manning said. "She did a very unselfish thing by agreeing to play back there.

She's made life a lot easier for us this year. She's our best defender."

Manning said when Jones played midfield that the Utes could send fellow midfielders Isleib and Melissa Crespo to attack and Jones would hold her own.

"There would be games last year when Crespo and Kelly were attacking and Kiley would be one-on-three or one-on-four and they couldn't get by her," Manning said. "She could just cover so much ground."

Manning has known Jones since she was 8 years old. He coached her older sister, Whitney, as a junior player before she went on to become an all-American at UCLA.

"The first thing I thought of when I got here (in 2002), was, 'I've got to get Kiley,"' Manning said.

He hadn't even seen her play in years, but he knew she was just the kind of player he wanted as he built his program. Jones helped lead her high school team to three CIF Division I championships and also competed in the Olympic Development Program.

Like her sister, she was recruited by UCLA, but she decided to make her own mark by going to Utah. Both of her parents attended the U. and her father, Scot, was a starter on the 1974 NIT runner-up team.

Jones, who scored the only goal in Utah's loss to Wyoming Saturday, is hoping the Utes can make a run at the MWC tournament title this week and advance to the NCAA Tournament for the sixth straight year.

"We want to make an appearance in the NCAA and get further than we ever have," Jones said.

Manning and the Utes will miss her next year.

"Ever since she stepped onto the field four seasons ago, whatever position she playing, she plays it great," Manning said.

E-mail: [email protected]