WAC coaches tab Wolverines to finish second

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Kyle Spencer, Sports Editor, @kyledspencer

Adding 10 new players to a roster often translates to the beginning of a strenuous rebuilding process for collegiate coaches. UVU women’s soccer head coach Brent Anderson believes his team can buck the trend despite the fact that it returns only six starters from last season.

“I think that we’ve got some great returning players in key positions,” said Anderson. “We’re a fairly young team. I’m not saying it’s a building year, because it’s not, but we are going to be young. I actually kind of like that going into the WAC for the first year. It gives these young players the opportunity to experience that level of competition, and it helps them understand what it takes to be successful in that conference. They’re going to know that right off the bat this year and then they’ll know that they have to produce for the next three or four years.”

Conference play always offered the Wolverines a stretch of games against familiar opponents, which UVU usually responded to during the Great West Conference era by going on winning streaks and creating a stranglehold of first place. This year the Wolverines will match up against foes previously unknown, but that doesn’t mean it will bring an end to their championship run. Recently the WAC coaches chose UVU to finish second overall, receiving one first place vote along the way.

“I was surprised that they selected us to finish so high,” Anderson said. “I didn’t know what the perception was out there amongst WAC coaches. I’m happy that they do hold us in such high regard. I think that that gives the team some confidence, but they also understand that now they have a target on their back. Teams are going to measure themselves against us, so we need to step up our game.”

Two Wolverines were chosen as preseason all-WAC performers: senior goalkeeper Lauren Sack and junior midfielder Lexi Robison. Sack posted a.772 save percentage last season and was named GWC defensive player of the year for her brick-wall-like play. Robison scored four goals and notched 3 assists in 2012 and was also named to the all-GWC first team.

A perfect 5-0 record in conference play resulted in the Wolverines collecting another regular season GWC title and propelled them to capture the conference tournament championship as well. UVU finished just 9-11-1 overall but 10 of the 11 losses were decided by one goal. This year’s group of upperclassmen includes various players kept from the pitch last season due to injuries, veterans that have gelled nicely with the newcomers, as was evident in the annual green and white exhibition.

“I think that two of our most dangerous players may be getting some accolades but not quite enough attention,” Anderson said. “Natalie Baker, who didn’t have a great year last year – she had some injuries going into the season and didn’t really get back to the player she had been the year before – is better now than she’s ever been. She’s going to be a great attacking threat for us. You throw Haley Curtis into the mix and those two play extremely well off of each other. In the green and white game you could see they’re looking for each other, they combo well of each other, they create space for each other, and both of them are very dynamic and hungry to score.”

Baker broke the UVU single season points record in 2011 by finishing the season with 10 goals and 6 assists (26 points). Her injury-hampered follow up campaign concluded with her scoring 5 goals in 2012, and her strides to get back to playing form have the rest of the WAC on alert.

UVU will likely feature a predominantly young defense, with the exceptions of Lauren Sack in net and senior Lexi Dunn responsible for organizing the back line. The starting midfield features the aforementioned Robison, along with junior Kim Stratford and sophomore Jamie Brown, whose scoring ability – demonstrated when she tallied both goals in the green and white game – will supplement the dynamic tandem of Baker and Curtis up front, who will be joined by either junior Maggie Adams or McKell Salmon to round out the first 11 on the field for the Wolverines.

“I think that you’ll see some great play coming out of our back line, some really creative play coming out of our midfield, and decisive attacking play from our forwards,” Anderson said.

The new look Wolverines travel south to begin the season at UTEP on Aug. 23 and then head north for a match against Utah State on Aug. 26 before the home opener on Aug. 29 against Weber State.