Back in August, just before the season began, Utah soccer coach Rich Manning broke one of coaching's golden rules — never look past your next opponent.
Instead of repeating the tired old line about "taking it one game at a time," Manning candidly said his team had high expectations for the season and that one of its main goals was to advance further in the NCAA tournament than the past three years.
So far, the Utes have enjoyed a successful season, winning the Mountain West Conference regular-season title and going 14-6-1 overall. Now it's time for the Utes to try to make their splash in the NCAA tournament.
The Utes play Arizona tonight at 7 p.m. at Ute Field directly after BYU and Weber State meet at 4:30 p.m. The winner of the two games will meet Saturday at 1 p.m. for the right to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.
Manning stresses that his team isn't satisfied just to be in the tournament and that "we want to go as far as we can."
However, he's certainly not looking past Arizona to a possible matchup with either BYU or Weber State on Saturday.
In the Wildcats, the Utes face a team that beat them 1-0 in overtime in Tucson in September. Arizona midfielder Mallory Miller scored the only goal of the game five minutes into the first overtime period, handing the Utes their first loss of the season after six wins.
"Arizona is a terrific team," Manning said. "They're well-coached and have tested themselves in the Pac-10 all year and have some good results. I think it will be a very competitive game."
Miller has 17 goals on the season, which is tied for ninth in the nation and ranks 15th in points. She's the one player Manning is most concerned about, but he said his team won't do anything different, such as double-teaming her.
When asked what the Utes could do to stop her, he joked, "Make sure she doesn't get a plane ticket."
Arizona's goalkeeper is McCall Smith, a sophomore who played for Skyline High in Salt Lake. She leads the Pac-10 in saves and saves per game and is third in shutouts with seven. Manning praised Smith as an excellent goalkeeper and said he would have recruited her more, except that he already had Ashley Mason.
One of the keys to victory, Manning said, is getting an early score. Whenever the Utes have scored this year, they have either won or tied. Adele Letro and Amanda Feigt are tied for the team lead with seven goals apiece.
GAME NOTES: Extra bleachers are being brought in for the game, which is expected to be a sellout and draw more than 2,000 . . . The Wildcats arrived in Utah on Wednesday and worked out for an hour at Ute Field in the afternoon . . . Manning is good friends with Arizona coach Dan Tobias. The two are co-coaches of the Region 4 Under-17 Olympic Development team . . . This is Arizona's first-ever visit to Utah for a soccer game . . . When the Utes hosted the NCAAs in 2003, they were beaten by Idaho State in a first-round shootout after a scoreless tie.