BYU women's soccer coach Jennifer Rockwood knows polls don't mean a lot. Even so, she can't help but admit its flattering to see the Cougars in the national preseason rankings for the first time.
"It's exciting," Rockwood said. "Things have just really come together."And quickly.
Saturday's game at William & Mary in Virginia marks the opening of BYU's fourth season of NCAA play. The Cougars, who participated in the NCAA Tournament for the first time last season, are a model of success. After going 11-8-1 in their inaugural campaign, the past two years have produced records of 22-1 and 19-4.
"Our plan is to get better each year," Rockwood said. "And we're headed in the right direction."
Led by Shauna Rohbock, a two-time All-America forward who is back for her senior year, BYU has been competitive since making the jump from club team to Division I. The Cougars, however, have had to make things tough on themselves to gain national attention. After being denied a postseason berth in 1996, Rockwood decided to upgrade BYU's schedule and expose the program nationally.
Before dropping a 1-0 decision to eventual Final Four participant Santa Clara in the first round of the NCAA tourney and placing second to SMU in the WAC Tournament last year, the Cougars went 19-2 in a schedule that featured several California powers.
BYU will face USC, California and Stanford this season as well as two trips back East in an effort to increase the program's identity. With perennial powers at North Carolina and Notre Dame, the NCAA Tournament has long been accused of having an Eastern bias. The Cougars open the 1998 season with games at nationally ranked William & Mary and Massachusetts. In October, they'll visit Michigan and Michigan State.
"We think it will be great exposure for us and a great experience," Rockwood said. "We're going to try and go East every year."
"We're going to play a more difficult schedule every year," said Rockwood, who believes her team has gotten stronger by facing improved competition.
The preparation, she hopes, will help BYU reach its goals in 1998. As hosts of the WAC Tournament in November, the Cougars' first objective is to earn one of four invitations to the gathering. To do so brings the added comfort that host schools have won each of the previous WAC affairs and earned an automatic NCAA bid in the process.
With Rohbock among six of BYU's top seven scorers returning from last season (Sara Reading, Kim Lowe, Karen Robbins, Maren Hendershot and Athelia Graham are the others), the Cougars are expected to do so. The WAC favorites are ranked 12th in the nation by Soccer Buzz magazine and 19th by both the coaches association and Soccer America.
'98 BYU schedule
Aug. 29 at William & Mary
Sept. 1 at Massachusetts
Sept. 5 WEBER STATE, 7 p.m.
Sept. 11 COLORADO, 7 p.m.
Sept. 12 PORTLAND STATE, 7 p.m.
Sept. 18 NEW MEXICO, 7 p.m.
Sept. 19 IDAHO STATE, 5 p.m.
Sept. 22 at Southern California
Sept. 25 BUTLER, 7 p.m.
Sept. 26 MONTANA, 7 p.m.
Oct. 2 at California
Oct. 5 at Stanford
Oct. 8 at Utah, 4 p.m.*
Oct. 9 HAWAII, 6 p.m.*
Oct. 15 at San Jose State*
Oct. 17 at Fresno State*
Oct. 22 UNLV, 6 p.m.*
Oct. 24 SAN DIEGO STATE, 6 p.m.*
Oct. 30 at Michigan
Oct. 31 at Michigan State
Nov. 4-7 WAC TOURNAMENT
Nov. 14 NCAA Championships
All BYU home games played on the field south of the Smith Fieldhouse.