SALT LAKE CITY — Off to its best start since 2005, the Utah women's soccer team begins its rigorous Pac-12 schedule with a game at Oregon State on Friday night in Corvallis (8:30 p.m. MDT).
The young Utes are 5-1-2 heading into their 11-game league schedule, which will include five straight home games followed by five straight on the road. The Utes lost their opener to Utah State, but are unbeaten in their last seven games, including a 1-0 victory over current No. 12-ranked BYU.
"We have a lot of the elements to be a really good team, but I'm pleasantly surprised at how quickly it's come together," said Ute coach Rich Manning, now in his 11th year as the Utes' head coach. "The leadership's been really good. There's a fantastic chemistry on the team led by (captain) Allie Wisner."
Wisner is a fourth-year junior on a team that has no seniors. She says everyone, from the coaches to the trainers to the players, are working together this year.
"We have a lot of new players and we all have a belief we're in here together," Wisner said. "We're all working towards the same goal. It's such a group effort."
Wisner, who hails from Bozeman, Mont., is a midfielder who is joined by Avery Ford, a sophomore from Bonneville High, and Leslie Muirhead from California. Manning said Ford has "blossomed" this year and has "probably been our best player."
Manning has been pleasantly surprised with his young backline, which includes Jenny Hutton, Abby Groth, Megan Trabert and Monica Okapal. Trabert is a freshman from East High, and Okapal is a junior from Bountiful High, who converted from forward. Groth took over for McKell Seymour, who was recently injured.
The Utes don't have a dominating forward, but have been getting more scoring than in recent years with Jill Robison (Layton), Katie Taylor (Davis), Baylee Nielsen (Maple Mountain) and Ashton Hall each taking turns scoring goals.
Redshirt freshman Lindsey Luke has been solid in goal after replacing starter Cheyenne Mulcock in the third game when Mulcock was injured.
Luke has allowed only three goals all season and is the first Utah goalkeeper to record three consecutive shutouts since Emalee Rogers in 2008. For the season, Luke has four shutouts.
Against Oregon State, the Utes face a team on a four-match win streak that sports the second-best record in the Pac-12 at 8-1.
After the game at Oregon State, Utah returns home for matches against Washington State and Washington next weekend, followed by matches against Stanford and Cal the following weekend.