PROVO — The BYU women’s soccer team got a taste of success last year and is hungry for more.
Last season saw the Cougars reach the NCAA quarterfinals before losing a heartbreaking match to North Carolina in double-overtime. The team’s play captured unprecedented attention from the media and from BYU fans, who made the NCAA games the Cougars hosted standing-room-only events.
“We’ve had a solid program here for a long time. A program that is regularly ranked, but last year was certainly something special,” said coach Jennifer Rockwood. “The run we made sort of put us on the map in a lot of people’s view. It puts more pressure on us — more expectations, but we’re excited about our potential this year and hopeful for a lot of that same success we had last year and hopefully build off of it.”
The Cougars had their work cut out entering the season, having to replace many of the key seniors who led last year’s team, but so far so good. They’re off to a 5-2-1 start and hopeful to repeat as West Coast Conference champions. Conference play gets underway Oct. 10 when the Cougars travel to take on San Francisco.
Pre-conference play has provided some exciting wins against Oklahoma, LSU and Utah, but also some disappointing efforts against UC-Irvine, and most recently, a 1-0 loss to Long Beach State.
“We’ve had certain players playing well in certain games and others not, so getting everyone to play well at the same time — that’s what we’re striving for,” Rockwood said. “Overall I’m pleased with the progress we’ve made and where we’re at, but we can get better, and I’m confident that will happen.”
The No. 17-ranked Cougars are led by a small group of seniors who have meshed well with an otherwise young and relatively inexperienced team.
“I love this team and how hard everyone works to get better,” said senior goalie Erica Owens. “There’s a great attitude everyone has, and that’s really helping us get better. I think a lot of it is seeing the success we had last year and knowing we can do special things here at BYU.”
Owens has embraced her leadership role along with fellow seniors Niki Fernandes, Rachel Manning, Colette Jepson Smith and Cloee Colohan, among others.
“Erica is exactly what you want defending goal,” Rockwood said. “She’s experienced, she’s a leader and it’s important for any team to have good, experienced leaders and we have that in Erica and all the other seniors.”
The team includes a lot of young talent led by freshman forward Ashley Hatch, who is tied with Manning for the team lead in goals with three.
"Ashley has become a player teams have to prepare for, which helps everyone else," Rockwood said. "Overall the incoming freshman class has exceeded my expectations and my expectations were high. We knew we'd lose a lot of great players after last season, so we've worked hard in getting a very good group of freshmen in to replace them, and they've all played extremely well."
The goals for the team are to repeat as West Coast Conference champions and make another run in the NCAA tournament.
"I really believe we have the type of team that can do the same sort of things last year's team did," Owens said. "The girls are passionate about the game, and that's our driving force. We have a lot of girls here that know what this program is capable of and who have the passion to get to the top."