In one of its greatest seasons, the BYU women’s soccer team rolled in 2012. Only an epic overtime 2-1 loss at South Field to North Carolina kept the Cougars from the NCAA Tournament semifinals.
The Cougars, a favorite to repeat as West Coast Conference champions, seek to provide an encore performance. Four national polls have BYU ranked between No. 6 and No. 12.
Friday’s season openers (all times MT)
BYU » host CS Fullerton, 7 p.m.
Utah State » hosts Creighton, 4 p.m.
Utah » at Western Kentucky, 11 a.m.
Utah Valley » at UTEP, 7 p.m.
Weber State » host Idaho, 3 p.m.
Southern Utah » at CS Bakersfield, 8 p.m.
"We have just as high expectations as we did last year," said BYU coach Jennifer Rockwood, whose players, as well as those from Utah and Utah, open the 2013 season Friday. The Cougars, 20-2-2 in 2012, host Big West power Cal-State Fullerton.
The hallmarks of any Rockwood team includes strong defense and keeper — senior Ericka Owens — as well as an unrelenting offensive attack.
Keying this year’s offense is sophomore forward Michele Murphy, who scored eight goals with seven assists in 2012. Murphy and senior midfielder Cloee Colohan should replace the nine goals from departed Jessica Ringwood. Colohan, an Ogden native, transferred from Portland and has already made her mark, scoring twice in a 5-0 preseason beating of Haiti.
"Cloee is such a special player," Rockwood said. "She’s such a core to everything we do. She’s such a smart player."
One of BYU’s two losses came early in the season to Utah. The Utes, who open Friday at Western Kentucky, started 2012 well, and opened the Pac-12 season at 2-1.
Then the roof caved in. Utah, picked to finish ninth in the Pac-12 in 2013, wobbled to a 1-6-1 finish in its final eight games to finish 8-8-3, 3-7-1 in conference. The Utes, who return Pac-12 All-Freshman keeper Lindsey Luke, will field plenty of experience. Defender Avery Ford was selected to a Pac-12 Preseason All-Conference Team.
"Our team tasted some success and gained valuable experience last season," Utah coach Rich Manning said. "We now have a core group of players that have been seasoned by two years of Pac-12 play. They have set high goals for themselves. Our nonconference schedule is designed to put us through hard tests in tough environments. I think we are up to the challenge."
The 2013 schedule is a welcome relief from last year’s grinder that saw the Utes play their final five games away from Ute Field. Three of Utah’s final five contests are at home, including No. 5 UCLA.
"Though we had a rough patch at the end of last season, I think the players realize how close we are to reaching those high goals."
Utah State, under Heather Cairns, will find new challenges as it enters the Mountain West Conference. The Aggies, picked to finish third, are two-time WAC champions — also four of the last five seasons — and two-time NCAA participant. They return a veteran presence, including leading scorer Jennifer Flynn, who had seven goals.
USU, which opens its season 4 p.m. Friday against Creighton at Chuck Bell Field, was fueled by a defense that allowed just 13 goals. That part of the field returns three starters.
"We know that the Mountain West is going to be a step up in competition from head to toe," Cairns said.
In preparation, the USU preseason includes four conference champions.
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