PROVO Considering the makeshift lineup the Utah women's soccer team had to work with for Wednesday's first-round game in the Mountain West Conference Tournament, the Utes' chances of advancing weren't looking good.
The Utes had lost to the same Wyoming team four days earlier by a convincing 4-1 margin, losing two experienced players to red cards and another to injury in the process. Then earlier in the week, they lost their goalkeeper to a suspension and another player the night before to food poisoning at the tournament banquet.
So playing with a couple of underclassmen who had hardly played a lick all season and a goalkeeper who had played less than one game all year, all the Utes did was come away with a 2-0 victory over the Cowgirls to keep their season alive.
The Utes will meet league champion UNLV today at 1 p.m. in the semifinals for the right to play in Saturday's finals.
"We showed good character today," said Ute coach Rich Manning. "It was great having people who work hard and maybe don't get on the field a lot, making a difference in a big game."
Danielle Sample, a sophomore from Brighton High School, who had only played in three games all year, played all 90 minutes and "was terrific" in the midfield according to Manning. He also praised Alyssa Toomey, a freshman from Northridge High, who played 68 solid minutes and Emalee Rogers, getting a shutout in just her second game in goal.
Manning had to patch together a lineup and a new strategy after Amanda Sanchez and Melissa Crespo were both given red cards at Laramie, making them ineligible for Wednesday's game. Then Manning suspended regular goalkeeper Lynzee Lee for "violating team rules," and on top of that forward Jen Christoffers got food poisoning the night before. Also, leading scorer Adele Letro was feeling sick and played a little more than half the game.
The Utes decided to go with one forward, five midfielders and four defenders, and it worked. They got a goal late in the first half from freshman Lauren Hair off an assist from Kelly Isleib and another from Chelsea Card on a header off a rebound early in the second half.
"Chelsea was great," Manning said. "She worked her tail off and made a difference in the game."
One of four seniors on the team, Card didn't want her season to end.
"Our team has been stressing the last couple of days that if we don't win this tournament, we're not going to keep playing," Card said. "We're really excited to get the win."
Manning feels the Utes must win today and probably Saturday to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the sixth straight year.The Utes tied the Rebels 2-2 earlier this year in Las Vegas and 0-0 in last year's MWC finals, only to lose in a shootout.
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