Three SUU teams seek postseason competition

With just a handful of games remaining in each of their seasons, the Southern Utah University football, women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball teams are all on the brink of qualifying for the playoffs.

After ending 2021 with just one win, the Southern Utah football team has exceeded expectations in their first season in the Western Athletic Conference. Last year, they ranked 13th out of 13 teams in the Big Sky Conference without any wins in conference play. The WAC 2022 preseason coaches poll predicted that SUU would end the season ranked fourth out of the five teams eligible for the conference title.

Heading into their bye week, the Thunderbirds currently have a 3-5 record. Only one of their wins came against a conference opponent when they defeated Utah Tech University on Sep. 24 by a score of 31-17. They began the season 3-1 before falling into a four-game slump. In the losing streak, however, SUU has only lost by a combined 15 points. 

The WAC has an alliance with the Atlantic-Sun Conference that allows the top team to automatically qualify for the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. There are eight teams between the two conferences that are eligible. Not including the ineligible teams, the Thunderbirds are seventh in the most recent ASUN-WAC power ranking. Aside from 10 automatic qualifiers, the FCS playoffs will include 14 teams coming from at-large bids that will be selected by the Division I Football Championship Committee. 

Before the season’s end, SUU will play three more games. On Nov. 5, they will play the Utah Tech Trailblazers for the second time this year. They will return to Cedar City for one last home game on Nov. 12 against Lincoln University and will finish their season on the road against conference opponent Sam Houston State University on Nov. 19.

The success of Southern Utah’s 2022 women’s soccer season has been a huge turnaround from a challenging 2021 season. After a year with only two victories, they have put together the best season in program history. They were predicted to end the season in 11th place in the WAC standings, but with nine wins and potential for more they are looking at a postseason tournament run.

The Thunderbirds have earned a record of 9-4-2 up to this point, with four of those wins coming in conference play. They have outscored opponents 30-12 and have collected eight shutouts over their 15 games. 

The WAC’s postseason soccer tournament allows six of the 12 teams to compete. SUU is currently ranked seventh. If they can manage to move up one spot, they will have secured their first postseason appearance since 2008.

Just two games remain in SUU’s schedule, and they are against the top two teams in the WAC. The first will be against their in-state rivals, the Utah Valley University Wolverines, which will take place on Oct. 27. The final game will be played Oct. 29 in Seattle, Washington, against the Redhawks of Seattle University.

After finding themselves at the bottom of the Big Sky Conference last year, the Thunderbird volleyball team has tried to step it up since joining the WAC. Preseason predictions had the Thunderbirds finishing 12th out of 13 teams, but with five matches left in the season, the Thunderbirds are currently tied for seventh. Only the top eight teams in the WAC will advance to the postseason tournament.

Despite an overall record of 5-13, SUU has found moderate success in conference play. They have won three of their last five games, all against conference opponents and all 3-0 sweeps. They are just two wins away from passing their win total from last year.

The Thunderbirds will play in five more matches before ending the 2022 season. The first will be on Oct. 29 at Utah Tech before they return to the America First Event Center on Nov. 3 to take on Grand Canyon University. The final home game will take place on Nov. 5 against California Baptist University, and they will wrap things up with two away games against Stephen F. Austin University and the University of Texas at Arlington on Nov. 10 and 12.

All games can be streamed on ESPN+.

Story by: Anden Garfield
Photos by: Anden Garfield