WEST JORDAN — Everyone peered with concern at the Oquirrh Mountains as the gray clouds formed overhead on Sunday. When the lightning bolts finally arrived, the ref had to delay the U.S. Amateur Soccer Association's Region IV Select Teams championship between Utah and Northern California.

When play resumed 25 minutes later, a rejuvenated California squad went on to beat Utah 2-1 in a shootout.

"They came out fired up and really took it to us," said Utah coach Robyn Bretzing.

The delay came with 20 minutes remaining in the game, and just when Utah was beginning to play its best soccer of the afternoon. Former BYU standout Maren Hendershot had two great scoring chances during that stretch, but both missed the mark.

As the teams took shelter under a pavilion, Hendershot apologized to Bretzing for not scoring. Either one of those goals would've handed Utah the region title, and a chance to defend their national championship. Instead, Northern California will represent the West at the November tournament in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., a tournament won by the West champ the past seven years.

"Overall I believe we had the better team. They might have had more speed, but had the game not been delayed I think we would've pulled it out," said Bretzing.

Northern California struck first in the 10th minute as Stanford's Kelsey Carlson dribbled through three Utah defenders before scoring. Ten minutes later BYU striker Sarah Reading headed in a corner kick from former Bountiful High star Caroline Putz.

Utah maintained the momentum generated from the goal, but despite controlling possession it, they never put a quality shot on target.

Because the California squad had a 4 p.m. flight to catch, a deadline the lightning delay made more pressing, the teams agreed to bypass overtime and go straight to the shootout.

Bretzing knew her team was at a major disadvantage. Even though Jennifer Waldron is a fine goalie, California keeper LaKeysia Beene was the back-up goalie for the U.S. Women's World Cup team last summer.

Putz took Utah's first shot, but Beene easily smothered the poorly struck ball. California's first four kickers all converted, and when Ashley Dryer's kick went wide, California had earned the region crown.

While the teams battled for the title, players were also trying to make the region's all-star team. Seven Utah players were invited to join the West squad which will compete at the U.S. Soccer Festival held in Rhode Island on July 30-Aug. 5.

The Utah players selected were: Erin Fahey (University of Utah assistant coach), Hendershot (BYU graduate), Sarah Reading (BYU), Staci Reynolds (BYU), Carolina Putz (U. of Washington), Michelle Jensen (BYU graduate) and Jennie Christiansen (BYU).

"That is incredible," said Bretzing. "Mostly we've got two or three on the team, (but seven) shows the development of Utah soccer with colleges and the ODP programs."

Northern California's men's team defeated Washington 2-0 to win its region.


E-MAIL: jedward@desnews.com