During his 1 1/2 years as Utah soccer coach, Rich Manning has already experienced some big victories. Last year his Utes defeated eventual NCAA champion University of Portland at home and knocked off archrival BYU on the road in an NCAA first-round game.
So when asked how his latest big win — a 1-0 shutout of No. 2-ranked Florida on Sunday — stood among his other victories, Manning paused for several seconds before answering.
"It's right up there," the low-key Manning said Sunday afternoon. "Florida's won the national championship as recently as five years ago, and we beat them in the semifinals twice when I was (an assistant coach) at Santa Clara. It's always fun to go up against that level of talent and see how you compare."
The Utes, who are ranked No. 24 in the Soccer America poll but sure to move up this week, improved to 8-1 on the season, while the Gators left town with the same 8-1 record after suffering their first loss of the year.
Two nights earlier, they had escaped with a 3-2 win at BYU in overtime.
"It was a great win on our home field," said Amber Brower, who scored the only goal of the contest. "We're trying to go undefeated at home."
"We were pumped up for this game more than any other, and we did it," said Ute freshman goalkeeper Ashley Mason, who had seven saves on the day and recorded her first full-game shutout.
The Utes found the net midway through the first half when Missy Dennis fired a pass from the left side to Amber Brower, who stuck a shot into the lower left corner from 10 yards out.
"It was just a perfect cross from Missy, and I was able to get a touch on it," Brower said. "I was one-on-one with the keeper and able to put it in the back of the net."
The Utes played aggressively throughout the first half, which both coaches thought was the key to the outcome.
"They played very physical in the first half, and they took us out of our rhythm a little bit," said Florida coach Becky Burleigh. "In the second half we responded but it was too little, too late."
"We came out with an aggressive attitude and set a good tone in the first half," said Manning. "Once you get the lead, sometimes soccer takes over and they can't score. We definitely dodged some bullets in the second half."
Manning praised the play of his defenders, Melissa Wayman, Jen Williams, Melissa Deatherage and Tasia Duarte, who helped keep the Gators from scoring all afternoon.
Next up for the Utes are a pair of games in northern California, Friday against Saint Mary's, which handed the Utes one of their four losses last year, and at Sacramento State on Sunday. Then they return home to begin Mountain West Conference play with games against Air Force and New Mexico.