The BYU women’s soccer team is the favorite to win the West Coast Conference title championship for the fourth year in a row as season play starts this week.
BYU was picked to win the title this season by eight of the 10 coaches in the annual coaches poll conducted by the WCC. Santa Clara was picked to come in second and received two votes for first place. While Pepperdine, San Diego and Portland were picked to come in third, fourth and fifth places respectively.
San Francisco, Loyola Marymount, Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s were predicted to take places six through 10 in conference play, with Pacific falling in the number 10 slot.
BYU head coach Jennifer Rockwood said she knows that a lot of offensive pressure, a great defense and teamwork are essential to continue a good season.
“We’ve just got fighters on this team who believe in themselves and get the job done,” Rockwood said.
BYU junior forwards Ashley Hatch and Michele Murphy Vasconcelos were also picked for the All-WCC team in the same coaches poll. BYU, Santa Clara and San Francisco all had two representatives on the team while San Diego, LMU, Pacific, Gonzaga and Portland all had one representative picked for the All-WCC 2015 team. But winning is a team effort.
“My whole team is working hard, so I want to work hard,” Hatch said. “Because I don’t want to let them down, so I just work hard for my team and everyone works hard together.”
Vasconcelos also attributed much of her success and confidence to the encouragement and occasional push from her teammates.
BYU 204 shot attempts is most for WCC teams so far this season, and San Francisco comes in at a distant second with 141 shots taken. The Cougars are also tied with San Francisco for first place in number of shutouts with seven so far.
“It really comes down to getting results,” Rockwood said. “It doesn’t matter how nice we look sometimes and how much we pass the ball. We’ve got to be dangerous and we’ve got to look to score goals.”
BYU has always played a strong attacking game according to Senior defender Sarah Chambers Gardner, but having a strong defense has been crucial to BYU’s high preseason rankings.
“We take a lot of pride in our defense,” Rockwood said. “It’s something we talk about everyday and one thing we did find out about ourselves against Stanford is that we can play some really solid team defense and you have to do that to go far in your conference.”
Keeper Rachel Boaz has anchored the defense so far this season, starting every game and playing almost every minute. She is currently No. 2 in the WCC in shutouts. Defender Taylor Campbell Isom said the defensive strategy is a simple one.
“Our number one goal is to keep zero on the board, so that’s what we want to do,” Isom said.
BYU has the best overall statistics going into conference play with a total preseason record of 8-1-1 and currently ranked No. 4 nationally. BYU’s closest and most challenging opponent appears to be Santa Clara. Santa Clara is currently ranked No. 6 with a 7-3-0 preseason record. Coach Rockwood and her team try not to place one opponent over the other and instead focus on remaining positive and level-headed throughout the games Rockwood said.
“We want to see it as every game we are getting better,” Boaz said. “It doesn’t matter what their jersey says, we want to be the best we have been so far and take it one game at a time. We try not to get distracted by any extra hype or by too little hype.”
The women’s soccer team will play their first conference game in Washington against Gonzaga on Thursday, Oct. 1.
“We have all the opportunities in the world and where much is given much is expected,” Rockwood said. “So we have to do our best to make sure we take advantage of all the opportunities we have.”
It is with that motivation in mind that Rockwood hopes to lead her team to yet another WCC title and on to the postseason NCAA tournament.