Expectations are high as the BYU women's soccer program enters its sixth season under head coach Jennifer Rockwood and her staff. Those high hopes include winning another conference championship and going deep into the NCAA Championships, an overwhelming task for a program who's competing in its sixth year. But, the 2000 class has all the experience, talent and skill to do just that, and maybe more.
Nine returning starters headline the Cougar roster with All-Region Sara Reading and All-American Staci Reynolds taking lead roles on and off the field. Reading, a senior and an NSCAA/Adidas West Region All-America Second Team honoree, led the team in scoring in 1999 with 17 goals and five assists for her career high 39 points. Reynolds, a Second Team All-America selection by the NSCAA/Adidas Committee will anchor BYU's defense.
With a final record of 21 wins and four losses and a 20th place ranking at the end of 1999, it is safe to anticipate more of the same in 2000 with increased hopes of staying in the top 10 consistently during the season and advancing further in the NCCA tournament. Replacing two-time All-America Maren Hendershot won't be an easy task, but the experienced senior class of 2000 will be able to step up and fill that leadership role.
"This year's team, with nine returning starters plus Michelle Jensen-Peterson, will be our most-experienced team yet. Everyone is coming back with lots of enthusiasm and we have very high expectations, which include another conference title and advancing further in the NCAA tournament," said coach Rockwood.
Seniors Kim Lowe, Natalyn Lewis and Athelia Graham have impressive credentials coming into their final season with the BYU women's program. Lowe and Lewis were consistent playmakers in the midfield area, both finishing with double digit points, 33 for Lowe and 13 for Lewis. Graham, the other senior defender/midfielder will also have a critical assignment in her final season. Also playing their final year are sisters Janet and Michelle Jensen. Michelle, a returning All-Region and All-Conference honoree, redshirted in 1999 after serving an LDS mission to Portugal. Her speed on the wing will be critical for the Cougar team.
Other key experienced returnees include defenders Aurelin Weidner and Amber Anderson. The duo, plus BYU's star junior goalkeeper Jennifer Waldron, who will be pushed by Kylee Dickson, will make the Cougar defense extremely solid and tough to penetrate.
Sarah Higham, Jeni Willardson and Jennie Christianson who started or had significant playing time in 1999 are expected to continue in those roles this year. Last seasons freshman class which included Farrah Hofheins, Kylee Dickson, Donna Werts, Kelly Hunsberger and Rachelle Dixon also got some experience and will strengthen this year's roster.
"Jenny Willardson stepped up her freshman year and created a lot of scoring opportunities for us," added coach Rockwood.
Five new players will join the 2000 team to begin their college careers with the Cougars. Toping the list is the High School National Player of the Year and member of the U.S. National Team, Aleisha Cramer. Joining her are Meagan Dickerson who was District Player of the Year in Midlothain, Virginia as a junior and a Second Team All-State honoree in 1998 and 1999. Annie Hoecherl is one of two Utah players joining BYU. Hoecherl is a First-Team All-State award winner in 1997 and 1999, played at Skyline High School and has been a member of the Utah Olympic Development Program for the past six years. Britney Holman form Orem, Utah is a 1998 First Team All-State and All-Region winner from Mountain View High School and has been with the Utah ODP for two years.
Rounding out the incoming 2000 class is Lydia Ojuka from Tucson, Arizona who is an All-State selection in 1999 and 2000 from St. Francis High School. She's also been an All-Southern Arizona team member the past four years.
"Obviously, Aleisha is a great player, but the rest of our freshman class will surprise many people. We anticipate that Meagan and Annie will also play an impact role right away," assistant coach Chris Watkins said.
"We addressed our needs with speed, and we have met that need with our new class," added Watkins.
BYU Offense in 2000 Compiling a 20+ winning season this year will be no easy task, but the BYU women's soccer program feels they've got all the talent, skill and experience to be extremely competitive. One All-Region honoree, Sara Reading headlines the very offensively minded Cougar squad. The forward, from Plano, Texas, topped the leader board last year with 17 goals and five assists. Teammate Kim Lowe finished closely with 12 goals and nine assists for her 33 points. Team captain and senior midfielder Natalyn Lewis follows the explosive BYU offense with four goals and five assists for 13 points.
The midfield area is always critical for any successful soccer team and the Cougars have a lot of experienced and talented athletes to get the job done. Back for their junior seasons are Jennie Christianson and Sarah Higham both either played or started in all 25 games in '99 with Higham tallying eight goals and nine assists for a total of 25 points. Christiansons' stats include a trio of goals and assists for her nine points. Sophomores Jeni Willardson, Rachelle Dixon, Kelly Hunsberger, and Donna Werts are also back for their second season. Willardson and Dixon had the most experience with Willardson playing in 25 games with seven goals and four assists; and Dixon, tallying two goals and two assists in 24 games.
The Cougar Defense in 2000 All-America Staci Reynolds will play her final season with BYU and will anchor the Cougar defense along with senior teammate Athelia Graham. The duo contributed to 12 shutouts in '99 and their experience and leadership will make it tough for opponents to score. Three juniors also come back in 2000 to strengthen an already talented defense. Jennifer Waldron will start her second season as the starting goalkeeper. Waldron had nine solo shutouts and 60 saves in 1999. Amber Anderson and Aurelin Weidner who either played or started in over 20 games last year ,come back to help Waldron and company. Sophomore Farrah Hofheins will also relieve the defense lineup. Kylee Dickson, who played in three games as a keeper, and Jenny Campbell a 1999 redshirt will give Waldron a breather in the goalkeeping assignment.
"We return all of our starting defenders who have extensive experience playing together. This season's defense will be tougher, stronger, and smarter than in the past," quoted Rockwood.
BYU's 2000 Schedule Each year Jennifer Rockwood and company have consistently strengthened their schedule as much as possible. This year is no different. The Cougars will play seven teams who went to last year's NCAA Championships, five of those on the road. Weber State opens the 2000 season at home on August 26. Then the team takes it's first of six road trips with matchups against Washington and Montana, both games the Cougars won last year.
The 2000 schedule also provides new opportunities for the team as they are slated to play six teams for the first-time, two of which BYU hosts at home. Making first-time appearances at South Field are Washington State on September 4 and Arizona State on September 30. The Cougars will face first-time opponents Portland, Florida, Marquette and Minnesota on the road.
BYU anticipates another tough battle in Mountain West Conference competition. Last year, the Cougars finished regular season play with a 5-1 record. The one loss was to SDSU. BYU eventually won the first-ever MWC championship title, beating San Diego State 2-1 in overtime in San Diego. UNLV and San Diego State are the two conference foes playing in Provo in 2000. BYU will travel to New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and back to Salt Lake City to take on UNM, CSU, the Cowgirls from Wyoming, the Air Force Academy and instate rival Utah. The Cougars will be strong contenders for the regular season conference winners.
The final two games of the year take the Cougars to Arizona for games against Minnesota and the University of Arizona. Then, it's off to Las Vegas as BYU tries to win its second consecutive MWC Championship title and then waits for another NCAA tournament invitation.