PROVO For the first time since Rich Manning became coach six years ago, the Utah women's soccer team won't be playing in the NCAA Tournament.
The Utes ended their season on an unseasonably warm Thursday afternoon with a 2-1 loss to UNLV in the Mountain West Conference semifinals at BYU's South Field.
Utah finished with a respectable 12-5-4 record and could still get an at-large berth next week. However, when asked about it after the loss, Manning felt the Utes had a "zero percent" chance of being invited.
The Utes had played the league champion Rebels to a draw earlier this year in Las Vegas and played the Rebels pretty even Thursday. However, a couple of defensive mistakes led to UNLV goals, which were the difference in the outcome.
Jessica Destito scored both of UNLV's goals. Utah's Amanda Sanchez scored with less than five minutes left off a corner kick by Katy Reineke to cut the margin to one and the Utes had a couple more chances but couldn't even the score.
"In some respects that was the story of our season in that we just can't seem to stop the leaks in the back," said Manning. "But I was proud of the way we rallied."
Because of the warm weather and the fact that the Utes had played a day earlier and the Rebels hadn't, the Utes wanted to slow the game down to save energy for the second half. And Manning was pleased with the pace and rhythm for most of the first half.
Destito's first goal came in the the 21st minute from 20 yards out and was set set up by MWC player of the year Katie Carney. She popped a shot into the air that Ute goalkeeper Lynzee Lee tried to corral. But she couldn't get to it, leaving Destito with a wide-open net.
In the second half, the Utes seemed to have momentum and had just had a couple of chances including a strong shot by Kelly Isleib just over the crossbar.
Then suddenly the ball was heading the other way where the Rebels had an advantage on the right side. Destito fired a rocket from the right side into the top left corner, glancing off Lee's hands.
"Both goals were unfortunate," said Manning. "Credit UNLV, which was very opportunistic."
The future looks bright for the Ute program.
The Utes lose only four seniors from this year's team and will return Adele Letro, one of the nation's leaders in goals scored as well as Isleib, who has been in the nation's top 10 in assists all year."We're disappointed in the way the season ended," Manning said. "But I'm proud of the way the kids always fought back and fought hard. Twelve wins is not a bad year with our schedule."