Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
BYU's Katie Larkin kicks the ball past San Diego State's Allie Crowson in a MWC match last season.

PROVO — The Brigham Young University women's soccer team has high aspirations this season, but accomplishing their goals won't be easy.

The Cougars are coming into the season as the favorites to win the Mountain West Conference after receiving seven of the eight first-place votes in the preseason MWC coaches poll. But before they even hit the field against their familiar conference foes, the Cougars will have to go through a grueling non-conference schedule.

Early on the Cougars play the likes of Georgia, Cal, William and Mary, Miami and Marquette — several of which will be on the road. It is the type of challenge that BYU head coach Jennifer Rockwood is looking forward to.

"This group we have right now is a group that has done well against ranked opponents over the past two or three years," she said. "They have always risen to the occasion. With that in mind we decided to make a pretty ambitious schedule. We want to be prepared when conference time comes around, and the best way to do that is to play a tough schedule."

A strong senior class led by Katie Larkin, a first team All-MWC and third team All-American selection as a junior. Larkin is joined by fellow seniors Jessica Carter, Karen Cook and others who have all contributed as underclassmen. Junior Andrea Willis and sophomore Kassidy Christensen will see significant action, as well as Auna Janis and Lauren Anderson who will be key pieces as freshmen.

"A lot of our seniors are kids that were starters for us as freshmen so they have a lot of minutes behind them," Rockwood said. "Then you add in a great freshman group, and a few of them will be starting or contributing for us this season."

The Cougars officially kicked off their season last weekend—beating Cal Poly and losing a tough game at LSU. If the Cougars have a weakness it could be their difficulty punching in goals when they need to. Last season they controlled possession nearly every game but left the door open for other teams by not taking advantage of some of their offensive opportunities. Rockwood says that sometimes that's just how soccer is, but it will be a focus for the team throughout the season.

"You just keep trying to practice it and hope that the girls spent extra time in the summer working on their shots," she said. "But we will continue to work on that aspect of the game."

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