Photo by Lonna King
Just before the Utah Valley University men’s soccer team took to the pitch to face Cal State Bakersfield Oct. 6, goalkeeper and 10-game starter Elliott Rubio suffered a last-minute injury. The circumstance forced backup Mitch Jensen to make his first start of the season.
Situations like Jensen’s are a dime a dozen in sports. No matter how talented any team’s top line is, at some point the players a little further down the depth chart are going to be called on. It’s why the mantra “next man up” has become cliché. If the next man up isn’t ready to play, the team suffers.
The Wolverines didn’t skip a beat with Jensen between the pipes. Over the next two games, they shut out two conference opponents. Jensen saved the only three shots on goal in those contests, among several other key stops and plays crucial to the victories. As a result, he was named Western Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week. In a matter of days, he went from not expecting to play to receiving conference accolades for his performance. UVU head coach Greg Maas wasn’t surprised.
“We feel our goalkeeping corps is the best in the country,” said Maas. “We have three starting goalkeepers; that’s the way we look at it… [Jensen] provided great leadership in our first WAC match at home.”
Right off the bat, UVU’s starting lineup took a hit this year with Austin Buxton missing the season due to a recurrence of testicular cancer. A combination of injuries and yellow card accumulation culminated in the Wolverines missing four players who would start at full health against UTRGV Oct. 8. Only Aaron Meyer, Nic Harguindeguy and Giovanny Vasquez have started all 12 of UVU’s matches thus far.
In spite of all this, the Wolverines have maintained a top-25 ranking in most polls, currently coming in at No. 21 in Top Drawer Soccer’s rankings. They have a record of 9-3, including a 2-1 mark in WAC play.
“We always knew this team was a deep team and we knew our depth would be tested,” said Maas. “And it has been all year.”
UVU has the top-end talent to remain one of the best teams in the country. Arguably more important, though, is that they have the depth to make a late-season push through the inevitable nicks and bruises that a long season brings. Players like Jensen, ready to play at a moment’s notice, make this possible.
I grew up on a farm in Burley, Idaho, but I’ve always had an intense love of sports. I’m studying journalism in an attempt to turn my love into a career. I’m a huge Utah Jazz, Tennessee Titans, and San Jose Sharks fan. If it’s a sport, I’ll watch it.