Women’s soccer expected to go above and beyond

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    By SCOTT BELL

    Forgive the women’s soccer players if they are a little giddy about the prospects of the coming season.

    After qualifying for the NCAA tournament for the first time last season, the ladies are expecting even headier stuff this fall from a solid returning core and a strong group of newcomers.

    A bunch of firsts greet the Cougars as they begin the season. They were picked to finish first in the WAC in a pre-season coaches poll. They are ranked nationally in the pre-season polls for the first time. And also for the first time in their short four-year NCAA history, the Cougars have a schedule full of quality opponents that will aid their bid for another post-season appearance.

    “This is definitely the strongest team we’ve put together at BYU,” coach Jennifer Rockwood said. “The girls worked very hard over the summer and the off-season. We’re very pleased with the freshmen we have coming in. And, of course, Shauna (Rohbock) returns for her last year.”

    Of course. Rohbock has personally been the foundation of BYU’s budding soccer program. The two-time All-America forward has led the Cougars in scoring in each of her first three years on the team. Over the summer, Rohbock played on a regional New Hampshire team at the U.S. Soccer Festival.

    Returning along with Rohbock are a pair of juniors that played for the Fort Collins Force in the W-2 Amateur Soccer League over the summer: midfielder Maren Hendershot and forward Karen Robbins. Hendershot made the league All-Star team. Sophomore midfielders Sara Reading and Kim Lowe also return.

    “We definitely have more depth than a year ago,” Reading said. “Basically anybody you put in is going to get the job done.”

    Three Utah products headline the group of newcomers. Jenny Christianson, from Bingham High in South Jordan, Brittany Harlan, from Viewmont High in Farmington, and Amber Anderson, from Brighton High in Sandy, all made the travelling squad.

    If the results of the team’s first exhibition are any indicator, BYU’s beefed up schedule shouldn’t necessarily translate into a drop-off from last year’s 19-4 finish. The Cougars beat William & Mary, ranked as high as No. 8 in pre-season polls, 4-0 on Saturday to kick off their season-opening East Coast road trip. William & Mary advanced to the quarterfinals of last year’s NCAA tournament and was ranked ahead of BYU in every poll this year. Although the game was an exhibition, both teams played their regulars all the way. Robbins, Hendershot, Reading and Lowe each tallied a goal, and Rohbock assisted on two.

    “It could have been more,” Rockwood said. “We missed a couple of opportunities.”

    The Cougars officially open their season today against Massachusetts. The Minutewomen are ranked as high as 22nd in pre-season polls.

    “We came out to the East Coast to play some good schools and get a jump start on the season,” Reading said. “We want to win the WAC again and get farther than we did last year in the NCAAs.”

    Pollsters obviously expect better things from the Cougars. BYU is ranked 19th in the NSCAA/Umbro coaches poll, 19th in Soccer America and 12th in Soccer Buzz.

    Several outside factors should aid the Cougars in reaching this year’s tournament. The WAC tournament will be held in Provo Nov. 4-7 by virtue of BYU winning the WAC’s Pacific Division a year ago. The Cougars fell to host SMU in the finals of last year’s WAC tournament but earned an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament. Also, 48 teams will be included in this year’s NCAA field, an increase from last year’s 32-team bracket.

    So the goals are in place for the team to go where no BYU soccer team has gone before. Now the Cougars just have to score them.

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