Playing in their final regular season as Wolverines, members of the senior class stepped up to help UVU capture the third of four seeds in the Western Athletic Conference Tournament.
The class of soon-to-be graduates that consists of four players – Haley Curtis, Lauren Sack, Natalie Baker and Lexi Dunn – has already enjoyed a great deal of success, winning the Great West conference tournament or regular season championship in each season since the Wolverines arrived on campus, but the team is fighting for one more chance to become its league’s best.
All four seniors were named to the All-WAC First Team last week, goalkeeper Lauren Sack winning the conference Defensive Player of the Year. Sack takes home the award for a third time in her career and the first time as a player in the WAC.
“Those seniors have a rich history here at Utah Valley University,” Anderson said. “I think everybody recognizes that and would really like to honor them by giving them one more, at least giving them one more shot at it on Sunday. The freshmen, sophomores and juniors all understand what these girls have done and how valuable they are to our program.”
The last two matches of the regular season slate saw the team escape Las Cruces, N.M. – the site of the WAC Tournament – with a 2-1 victory in 108 minutes and drop a 3-0 decision to Kansas City, who the Wolverines will take on in the second conference semifinal Nov. 8.
Curtis gave UVU its seventh league win of the season and ninth overall with a free kick bender just outside the 18-yard box in the second period of extra time. The ball collided into the side netting after Curtis’ right-footed attempt beat the diving New Mexico State keeper.
“Haley’s had some great goals but she just means a lot to the team atmosphere and we’ve relied on her and her work ethic for a number of years,” head coach Brent Anderson said. “She’s willing to put in as much effort as is needed for us to get the win. She’s up in the attack, she’s back in the defense and she’s winning balls in the midfield.”
Curtis’ opportunity to help the Wolverines maintain their place in the conference standings likely wouldn’t have been possible if it hadn’t been for six saves from Sack.
“We usually go the way that Lauren Sack goes,” Anderson said. “If she’s out there and she’s confident and playing well the rest of the team feeds off that and can build off of her confidence.”
The win was followed up by a road trip to Kansas City, Mo., which spans nearly 1,000 miles in distance. The lengthy venture took a toll on the team, arriving to play its second game in three days after the 108-minute long battle in New Mexico.
“I really don’t think that we played well on Sunday,” Anderson said about the loss. “I think we came out a little bit flat. Give Kansas City credit, they played well – it was senior day and they were very motivated.”
The defeat was the Wolverines fourth conference loss of the season, but their first against the Kangaroos. UVU defeated Kansas City 2-0 at home last month and will meet the conference foe once more Nov. 8 in the WAC Tournament semifinal.
“I feel very good about our chances,” Anderson said of the matchup. “I think if we can make a few simple adjustments it will really allow us to be more competitive in the defense and definitely more dangerous in the attack as we go forward.”
If the Wolverines are indeed able to get past Kansas City, they’d probably meet a talented Seattle University squad in the final that hasn’t dropped a single conference fixture all year and only two games overall.
“Well everybody has to lose at some point,” Anderson said of high-powered Seattle. “I mean you see these stories all the time where the team that’s not expected to win does and the team that’s expected to just doesn’t have its best game. We recognize that they are a talented team and certainly we’re not looking past anybody.”
UVU won back-to-back conference tournament championships during its last two years in the Great West. The WAC Tournament championship game was played Sunday, Nov. 10 at 12 p.m. MST.