The BYU women’s soccer team began fall camp Wednesday, Aug. 2, and coach Jennifer Rockwood said she is excited to see what the team can accomplish.
“This is probably a little tougher and (more) demanding schedule than even last year, but we’ll see what we’re made of,” she said. “We like to go against the best.”
The Cougars finished last season ranked No. 9 in the nation with a record of 18-3-1, winning the West Coast Conference and advancing to the third round of the NCAA tournament.
This year’s team, which is ranked No. 8 in the United Soccer Coaches Poll, will have big holes to fill offensively with the loss of forwards Ashley Hatch and Michele Vasconcelos and midfielder Elena Medeiros. Combined, the trio scored over 70 percent of the team’s goals last year.
While it might be a challenge, Rockwood said she is confident in her players.
“We just have a lot of unproven goal scorers,” she said. “I believe in their ability. We have to help them find their confidence in (scoring goals).”
Senior forward Nadia Gomes is the only proven goal scorer who will be returning, Rockwood said. Gomes had six goals and 12 assists last year.
In addition to Gomes, Rockwood said she expects big things from sophomore forward Elise Flake.
“She had an amazing spring season and was right up there with Nadia in goals and assists,” Rockwood said. “I think she’s going to be a real dominant attacking player for us. She’s got amazing pace, amazing acceleration, and I think she’s ready to be one of our next big goal scorers.”
Rockwood said she also expects senior Madie Lyons Mathews, junior Madie Siddoway and freshmen Cameron Tucker and Mikayla Colohan to contribute offensively.
Mathews said the team will miss last year’s stars on and off the field, but she is excited to see what her team can do.
“We’re all really excited this year to step up and just be our best that we can be and make this team even better,” Mathews said.
On the defensive side, the Cougars return several key defenders, including Alyssa Jefferson, Taylor Isom, Danika Bowman and Stephanie Ney. Rockwood said the team may try a new strategy this year to get the defenders more involved.
“I think we have more attacking players overall as far as our depth, and we want to include our outside backs a little bit more than we did (last) fall,” Rockwood said. “We want to try to play more with central attacking players like we did this spring.”
Isom, named to the MAC Hermann Trophy watch list, said she is up for the challenge.
“I think (Coach Rockwood) kind of trusts me and (Ney) a little bit in the back and letting us just run at people,” Isom said. “I think that’s what we’re going to be good at, and it’s going to catch teams off guard … It’s going to be a lot to handle.”
The Cougars face a tough starting lineup against three non-conference teams they played last year. The Cougars defeated Oklahoma 1-0 on Aug. 11 in an exhibition game, which was a rematch of the second round of the NCAA tournament. Last year, BYU defeated the Sooners 2-1 before losing to regional host South Carolina in the next round.
BYU will host Ohio State the following week in the Cougars’ home opener. It will be the first game for the team at South Field on the new sod, which was replaced during the offseason.
The Buckeyes were ranked No. 19 when the Cougars defeated them 3-0 in Columbus, Ohio, last season.
Non-conference opponents also include UCLA and rival Utah. Both teams made it to the third round of the NCAA tournament last year.
Mathews said the team is excited about this season’s schedule.
“They’re great competition,” she said. “I feel like they make us better, and so we’re excited for a good challenge and we’re going to work our tails off to (compete).”
Isom said she is looking forward to her final games at South Field as a senior this fall.
“It’s the coolest experience,” she said. “I’ve played in a lot of stadiums, but there’s nothing like BYU.”
Last season, and for the second year in a row, South Field gave BYU the best home field advantage in terms of attendees per game – 2,957 – in the nation.
BYU will look to capitalize on that fan support when it opens WCC play at home against San Diego on Sep. 29.
On Oct. 19, BYU will look to avenge its only conference loss from last season against WCC co-champion Pepperdine in what could be another conference championship decider.
Every game but the Sept. 29 matchup with San Diego will be broadcast on BYU Radio, while every game will be broadcast on ESPN 960 AM. Over half of the team’s games are also scheduled to be broadcast on BYUtv, the Pac-12 Network or TheW.tv.