The Aggies have done it before: Last season, they topped the Western Athletic Conference field to get an NCAA tournament berth. Nothing quite breeds postseason success like having been there before.
The Mountain West will challenge them more, and the Wolfpack could have the upper hand after beating the Aggies 2-0 earlier in the season.
Since then, however, Utah State has locked down its back end with five shutouts in its last eight games with the help of Taryn Rose and Brooke Larsen-Leavitt. Both junior defenders earned all-conference honors Sunday, along with leading scorer senior Jennifer Flynn.
The Aggies also have two goalkeepers who they trust in Jeannie Woller and Natalie Stoven. Cairns said the two have battled neck-and-neck for most of the season, but either is capable minding the net.
"I've been really pleased," she said. "That first stretch of the season, we were giving up way too many goals. We've tightened up defensively, and I think that's given us confidence."
Although Flynn leads the team in points, Utah State draws its offense from all over the field. Seven different Aggies have scored multiple goals this year, including Rose with three. In the regular season finale, defender Lexie Henrie scored an equalizer to get a draw with Boise State.
Cairns expects her team to stick to that blueprint to give them the best chance of running the table next week and getting into the NCAA tournament again.
"I think the beauty of our team is that our scoring is so diverse, it's anybody's game," she said. "A lot of players are going to have to step up as leaders."
Utah State kicks off Mountain West tournament
UNM Soccer Complex, Albuquerque, N.M.
Kickoff • 7 p.m.
Utah State had three players on the all-conference teams
First team • Jennifer Flynn, Sr., F
Second team • Taryn Rose, Jr., D; Brooke Larsen-Leavitt, Jr., D