OREM -- The defending Great West Conference champion Utah Valley University will begin the 2012 soccer season at home when UTEP rolls into Orem Friday night. The game is set for a 7:30 kick off at UVU's Clyde Field.
The Wolverines closed out their preseason schedule Monday night with a 6-3 win over Westminster, getting a pair of goals from Lexi Robison, while Regan Benson and Jaime Lyons each tallied a goal and an assist.
Friday night also stands as the regular season opener for UTEP, who returns three All-Conference players from a squad that finished sixth in Conference USA in 2011. Junior midfielder Azia Nicholsen was recently named to C-USA's Preseason All-Conference Team, and senior forward Brittany Kindzierski's nine goals last season led the team.
"We have had some real battles with UTEP in the past," said head coach Brent Anderson, who is entering his seventh season at the helm of UVU soccer. "The last time we played them, in El Paso, they beat us, but we had gotten them down there the year before. So it will be a real test for us against a quality program."
UVU's 2012 roster boasts 16 returning letterwinners, seven of which spent significant time in the starting lineup a season ago. The Wolverines also return four All-Conference performers from their GWC title-winning squad in 2011.
Five seniors will take the field for UVU this season: First Team All-Conference forward and GWC Tournament MVP Regan Benson; Second Team All-Conference selection Kelsey Kimball Cook; Shalayne Janis, Jaime Lyons and Nicole Slater. Both Cook and Lyons are returning for their fifth seasons.
"We're excited to have Jaime (Lyons) back for a fifth year. She adds a lot of composure to our attack and is especially focused this year," Anderson said. "She thought she had lost a year when she missed 2010 with an injury, but she got it back and we know she wants to make the most of it.
Anderson also said how important it is for the team to have Cook play another year.
"Having Kelsey Kimball Cook back at defender for a fifth season is great for us as well," he said. "The leadership and composure she provides in our back line is invaluable and makes us a much better team."
Along with the experience of its senior leaders, UVU also returns last season's GWC Newcomer and Offensive Player of the Year in junior forward Natalie Baker, as well as the Defensive Player of the Year in junior goalkeeper Lauren Sack. Last year, Baker set single-season school records with 12 goals and 30 total points, while Sack finished with a 10-6-0 record.
Eight true freshmen and a pair of redshirt freshmen will also come into the fold this season. Most will be expected to contribute on the field this season.
The Wolverines will play two of their first six games at home. A trip to the OHANA Hotels & Suites No Ka Oi in Honolulu, Hawai'i, awaits the team after the UTEP match. While there, UVU will face Sacred Heart of the Northeastern Conference for the first time in program history on Aug. 22, followed by a matchup with the host University of Hawai'i on Aug. 26.
UVU then returns home for a Sept. 2 meeting with 2011 NCAA Tournament qualifier and two-time WAC champion Utah State -- the first of four instate clashes for the Wolverines this season. Weber State, Southern Utah and BYU are also on the schedule.
"I think it's great to get four instate games this season," Anderson said. "I love those local rivalries and the girls really love them too. They have friends and old teammates on those teams, which drives the competition just that extra notch. And I think it's important for us in the state to play each other and test each other because it helps grow the game here in Utah."
Defense of last season's GWC regular season title begins Oct. 5 when UVU hosts NJIT. Delaware State, the only team to defeat the Wolverines in league play last year, is UVU's only other home draw in conference play.
"We know we have a target on our back and we know that teams will be gunning for us," said Anderson of the conference schedule. "We're playing at South Carolina State, at Houston Baptist, at Howard - all teams that are very tough for us on the road. We know we have our work cut out for us and we hope our non-conference schedule prepares us for those games and gets us in a position to defend our conference championships."
UVU will look to become the first team to ever successfully defend its tournament title when it hosts the GWC Tournament beginning Nov. 2.
Kellen Hiser is sports information assistant at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.