PROVO For the first four years of Mountain West Conference women's soccer history, BYU dominated the competition, sweeping both the conference's regular-season and tournament championships from 1999 to 2002.
And when the Cougars didn't claim either in 2003, they still advanced to the NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight, so things didn't seem so out of whack merely a minor speed bump on the Cougars' controlling cruise.
Few could have foreseen BYU being absent for nearly a half-decade without one of the two annual conference titles.
While the Cougars have gone five years without a regular-season crown (missing a chance to win this year's but for a double-overtime heartbreaker to UNLV in last weekend's regular-season finale), they have a chance claim the 2007 tourney title today.
Ranked No. 23 nationally, the Cougars (15-3-4) face two-time defending MWC Tournament champion and 2007 league regular-season champ UNLV (11-4-5) in today's 1 p.m. championship match at South Field.
"They've done what it takes to get the trophy the last two years," said BYU head coach Jennifer Rockwood of the Rebels, "and we want to do what it takes to win one Saturday."
The Cougars seem to be performing at optimum level, downing TCU in Wednesday's quarterfinals and San Diego State in Thursday's semifinals by identical 2-0 scores.
BYU boasts one of the nation's stingiest defenses, featuring keeper Erika Woodbury and defenders Andrea Willis, Jessica Harmon-Carter and Amanda Draeger.
Led by leading scorer Katie Larkin and catalysts Katie Fellows and Kassidy Christensen, the attack is back scoring goals after a late-season drought. And midfielders Natalie Nate-Hendrikson and Carolyn Swenson are unsung standouts this season, the former for her tenacious play and the latter for her quick, effective ball control.
"I think they're really confident, and they have every reason to be confident," said Rockwood of her players. "They've played good soccer coming down the stretch. You want to be at your best, and I think we're playing some of our best soccer right now."Today's winner claims the Mountain West's automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament; BYU likely would be invited even with a loss. The Cougars are hoping a strong showing might afford the chance to host first- and second-round matches.
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