Jaime Rendich Beck is BYU's top returning scorer, finding the back of the net nine times in 2004. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
PROVO -- Returning 10 of 11 starters, the BYU women's soccer team is anticipating restoring its winning tradition this year by regaining the MWC title and appearing in the NCAA tournament. Despite a 7-10-4 record in 2004, the Cougars were a young, talented squad who at times showed flashes of brilliance and gave glimpses of what Cougar fans can expect during the 2005 season. With that tremendous potential, along with a renewed enthusiasm and commitment, the 2005 team is ready to get back to its winning ways with a successful campaign this year.
"We are all just really excited to get back on track," said head coach Jennifer Rockwood. "This program has a huge tradition of success and some of us feel like we let that tradition down last year. There is a renewed level of energy and effort to go out and prove ourselves."
THE COUGAR TEAM
Entering the 2005 season, the Cougars are a team full of young athletes, though with more experience than the 2004 squad. Returning are eight sophomores, along with nine freshmen. Over half of the 2005 team is comprised of underclassmen. Ten juniors and five seniors are also on hand to help guide this young team back to its winning ways.
The maturing process of the team is safely in the hands of Rockwood, a coach that has taken many young teams during her 10-year career and turned them into top-25 squads. Rockwood has quickly established herself as one of the premiere coaches in the country with an overall winning record of 165-56-10 (.735), which ranks her tenth best in winning percentage among current NCAA Division I coaches. Rockwood has guided BYU to eight top-25 finishes in the program's history and seven NCAA appearances in the last eight years, including three Sweet Sixteen appearances and the 2003 Elite Eight run.
The Cougars have a distinct advantage over their opponents with losing just three seniors. Only one player from the 2004 starting line-up will not be returning to the 2005 team. BYU will miss solid play from midfielder/forward Krissa Reinbold, who was a 2003 All-MWC selection.
The team had the opportunity to grow together through some tough games last season and then come together during spring season. BYU should be a fun team to watch as these women set out to prove themselves against talented competition.
Fortunately, the Cougars have some experienced players who will be expected to provide leadership to the young team.
According to Rockwood, senior goalkeeper Ashley Smith will be one of the main leaders on the 2005 team. "Ashley is such an amazing young lady," said Rockwood. "She understands that on or off the field, she can have a huge impact on the team with her ability to lead."
Rockwood also believes junior goalkeeper Natalie Evans and senior midfielder/defender Charlene Lui will have a tremendous influence on the young Cougar team.
"These three young ladies are all extremely well-rounded individuals, three of our hardest workers and three of our best role models," said Rockwood. "The impact that they can have on the younger players is going to be fun to watch."
This group of players brings with them experience and the same love for the game that has defined the nationally respected Cougar program. BYU will continue to follow the style of soccer and system that has enabled them to be successful over the years, with a few minor changes that will allow players new and better opportunities.
Senior Jaime Rendich Beck took on a new role during the 2004 season. She thrived under a system that allowed her more opportunities to shoot and counted on her to provide a strong offensive presence. As a junior, Beck was named to the Second Team All-West Region by Soccer Buzz, All-MWC First Team and MWC All-Tournament First Team. Scoring nine goals and posting three assists in 2004, Beck led the Cougars with 21 points and hopes to far exceed that number this year.
"Jaime is a tremendous offensive threat and one of our most talented players," said Rockwood. "She understands the work ethic necessary for success. She will be a key leader for us as she helps our offense through scoring and assisting goals."
Also returning to the Cougars for her junior season is First Team All-MWC defender Claire Thomas. Thomas earned seven points for BYU last season and Cougar fans can look for even greater numbers this season.
Beck and Thomas are joined by two Second Team All-MWC players, Lui and sophomore goalkeeper Erika Woodbury. Lui's greatest strength is her technical ability, which serves her well as she leads the organization of the Cougar midfield. Woodbury was also named the MWC Freshman of the Year with 1.18 goals against average and seven shutouts. Rockwood expects more of the same from these two players this year.
Junior midfielder/forward Bobbi Tillotson also had great opportunities to impact the team as a sophomore, leading the team with eight assists, while posting 12 points. The BYU squad will continue to depend upon her to find the right people at the right time.
With such a formidable cast returning, Cougar opponents should stay on the lookout. Rockwood certainly expects nothing but great results.
"Although our record didn't show it and we had some inconsistencies last year, we still were a very good team," said head coach Jennifer Rockwood. "We just didn't end up with the outcomes we would have liked. This team has tremendous potential and I know the girls realize that."
Many young and talented players will have an opportunity to play quality minutes in hopes of making an immediate impact on the team. In arguably one of the most balanced and talented recruiting classes, the Cougars add nine high-impact freshmen to a team that returns 10 of its 11 starters. BYU women's soccer was listed No. 9 regionally in the SoccerBuzz 2005 Top Recruiting Classes and No. 36 nationally.
"I think our incoming freshmen will have a big impact," said Rockwood. "They certainly have plenty of talent. We will be looking for a couple of them to play significant minutes for us."
The Cougar freshmen are led by Katie Larkin, a two-time NSCAA High School All-American and Utah 5A MVP. She led the state in goals and assists and will look to add her offensive talents to the Cougar line-up this season.
The team will be tested early and often with a difficult schedule, including several challenging road games. Eight 2004 NCAA tournament participants and two top-25 teams highlight the BYU women's soccer season. Texas, Wisconsin, UNLV, Colgate, Weber State, California, Arizona and Utah all played in the College Cup. The Cougars will play a total of 19 games, 11 at home and eight on the road.
At home, the Cougars hope to get on a roll early playing six of its first 10 games in the friendly confines of South Stadium. Average attendance for last season was tenth highest in the nation, averaging over 1,000 people cheering on the team.
The regular season opens on the road in Honolulu against first-time opponent George Mason on Aug. 27 and Hawai'i on Aug. 29.
The Cougars return to Provo for their home opener against Weber State on Friday, Sept. 1. Utah State comes into town Sept. 5, followed by Denver University and No. 16 Texas.
The team then makes a quick trip to Wisconsin, Sept. 16 and 17 to face another first-time opponent with the University of Wisconsin, and Colgate. The Cougars return home to play back-to-back games against California and Eastern Washington.
BYU will then travel to the valley of the sun for two challenging games, in Phoenix against Arizona State on Sept. 29 and Tucson against No. 25 Arizona on Oct. 1. Conference play begins with the next four games played at home, facing New Mexico, Texas Christian, Air Force and Wyoming.
The final road trip of the regular season will be challenging as BYU stops in Las Vegas to face MWC regular season champion UNLV on Oct. 20 and then travels to San Diego State for a game on Oct. 22. The season rounds out at home against in-state rival and last year's MWC tournament champion Utah on Oct. 29.
This year's MWC Championships will be played in Las Vegas Nov. 2-5. BYU looks to improve on last year's second place finish and regain the MWC Championship they have won four of the last six years, and also extend the season into the 2005 College Cup.
In order to return to its winning ways, however, BYU must be on a mission to prove last season was a fluke. With the talent and attitude of the 2005 squad, there is no doubt the team will prove just that.
"There is a lot of potential with this group of players," said Rockwood. "I know the girls worked really hard over the summer to come back more fit, better prepared and fully committed to being our best. I think it's going to be an exciting ride."