Women’s soccer: UVU enters WAC tournament as No. 2 seed

Photo by Cody Glassett

Preseason predictions had the UVU women’s soccer team finishing fourth in the WAC behind Seattle, Missouri-Kansas City and Grand Canyon. Fast forward almost three months and eight conference games later, and the final season standings tell a different story. UVU finishes as the No. 2 seed with a 5-2 conference record, which earns the Wolverines a first-round bye in the conference tournament. UVU finished behind UMKC, while SU and GCU struggled to make the WAC tournament.

At the beginning of the season, UVU head coach Chris Lemay said he wanted to play against the best of the best. The nonconference schedule certainly tested the squad’s skill and fitness, as only three of the 13 games were at home. The results were not always kind to the Wolverines, who entered conference play with a 4-9 record. However, Lemay knew this was the kind of the schedule the team needed to prepare to win the WAC.

“We put ourselves in every possible scenario,” Lemay said. “We wanted to give ourselves every experience possible so that when we entered conference play and the tournament, we would be battle tested.”

After dropping the conference opener to UMKC, Lemay said the team never lost the self-belief to compete for the conference championship. The team responded immediately with an emphatic 9-0 win at Chicago State, followed by another convincing win over New Mexico State, 5-2. The Wolverines continued their hot streak with wins over Texas-Rio Grande Valley, GCU and Cal State Bakersfield. They wrapped up the season with a 2-0 loss to SU. In that match, UVU had already locked up the No. 2 seed while the Redhawks were fighting for their spot in the tournament.

“We never deviated from our system, and that’s a big credit to the staff for sticking with it,” Lemay said. “If you’re not getting results, people might want to find a different solution, but we were confident in ourselves.”

Since the loss to UMKC, UVU has turned a corner on both sides of the field. The Wolverines scored 18 goals in five matches, which is an impressive 3.6 goals per match. UVU goes into the tournament leading the conference in shots and third in goals scored.

Players from a variety of positions have stepped up during conference play for the Wolverines. Midfielder Breanna DeWaal leads the team with nine goals and is tied with Tori Smith with six assists, which leads the team. Up front, Breanna McCarter has scored six goals and contributed with four assists. Freshman Amber Tripp is making her mark in her first year at UVU with five goals.

The defense has also taken a big step forward during conference play. A 3-0 win over SU on Sept. 30 was the first shutout of the season, and since then, the team has earned three shutout victories, allowing only eight goals total during conference play. During this stretch of play, defender Hannah Bruce earned defensive player of the month honors in the month of October, and goalkeeper Brooklyn Nielsen was named defensive player of the week from Oct. 16-22 after posting back-to-back shutout victories.

“Brooklyn has really come into her own as a goalkeeper,” Lemay said. “We’re good enough that if we continue to make it difficult for teams to score against us, we’re going to figure out a way to score one or two goals.”

The team as a whole has come into its own during conference play. Lemay said the team is in great position to win the conference and reach the NCAA tournament, a feat to which Lemay is quite accustomed, having been to the NCAA tournament each of the last five years while coaching at Cal Berkeley. Lemay said the experience of having the team being announced during the selection show is the best day of the year. The way the team has been firing on all cylinders during conference play, it should not be a surprise to anyone if that day comes for UVU.

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