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Miners looking strong going into conference play

Ruby Cerino
Freshman midfielder Jeanna Mullen dribbles past a Northern Arizona defender at University Field.

UTEP women’s soccer wrapped up its non-conference schedule with a 6-3-1 record and is now preparing to start the crucial part of the season when it begins its Conference USA schedule next weekend.

After starting the season with six wins and just a single loss, the Miners suffered two tough losses at University Field this weekend by the smallest of margins against the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, on Friday and Northern Arizona in double overtime on Sunday.

Still, after 10 games, and at the midpoint of the season, coach Kevin Cross’ team has been solid in all areas of the field and has shown great versatility with different players playing different positions.

“I think we are all just comfortable in our positions,” said Aleah Davis, sophomore defender. “We know any position, a lot of us are good at different positions.”

In goal, senior goalkeeper Sarah Dilling began the season with four straight shutout games and has recorded 34 saves. Aiding Dilling has been the defensive play, anchored by center backs Hannah Asuchak
and Davis.

The defense went 454 minutes before giving up a goal, allowing just five more goals in the five games after.  Asuchak has started in all 10 games for the Miners and has played close to 900 minutes, rarely coming off the field. Only Dilling has been on the field longer than Asuchak.

Davis, a preseason All-Conference USA selection, has also started every game. The red-shirt sophomore from Hewitt, Texas, has also produced offensively, scoring twice and being credited with 10 shots.

In the midfield, junior Angela Cutaia has provided a spark offensively, scoring a team high of five goals. MUTEP’s No. 11 has been outstanding, recording a couple of assists as well.

“That was one of my goals, to get at least five goals during preseason,” Cutaia said. “I try to set high standards for myself, so I can challenge myself and challenge my team.”

Three of Cutaia’s goals have come off set pieces, one of the major strengths of this UTEP team. Of the 18 goals scored by the Miners so far this season, more than a third have come as a result of well-executed set pieces. The key to this success has been the corner kick deliveries of assist leader Hannah Nicholson. The sophomore midfielder from San Antonio, Texas, has provided the assist on five different scoring occasions and added a goal against rivals New Mexico State.

Up top, El Paso native Brianna Barreiro has been balanced in her contribution. She has not only played as a forward, but as a center midfielder at different times in different games. Barreiro has scored three goals and assisted on three others.

UTEP begins conference play half way to matching last year’s 12 wins and with the firm objective of finishing in the top eight to qualify for the conference tournament. Picked to finish fifth before the season began, the Miners look to improve last year’s 5-3-2 conference record and the quick exit from the tournament after just the first game. The Conference USA tournament winner receives an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, to which UTEP has only attended once in 2005.

The Miners begin conference play on the road when they will visit Middle Tennessee State and UAB. Middle Tennessee finished in the bottom four of the conference a year ago with a 3-5-2 record. The Blue Raiders, picked to finish ninth, has a record of 3-4-1, with all three wins coming at home in Murfreesboro. UTEP will be in Murfreesboro on Sept. 26.

UAB was one of the eight teams that qualified to the conference tournament in 2013 and were picked to finish sixth in the conference, just behind the Miners.

The Blazers have had a rough start to the season, losing five games in a row before beating Chattanooga this weekend. UAB will start Conference USA play Sept. 26 at home against the University of Texas at San Antonio, before hosting the Miners on Sept. 28.

Luis Gonzalez may be reached at [email protected].

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Miners looking strong going into conference play