Opponent Preview: Part 1/2

(Photo by BYU Design/Jeff Wood)

The BYU women's soccer team's 2012 schedule features nine teams that made an appearance in the 2011 NCAA Women’s College Cup, eight conference opponents, four teams that finished ranked in the nation’s Top 25, two teams that advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, and 11 chances for the huge South Stadium crowds to see the team play at home.

Below is an in-depth look at the team's opponents for the first half of the 2012 schedule. Part 2 of this "Opponent Preview" will be released later in the season and will feature the second-half of the team's 2012 schedule. 

@UC IRVINE, august 17

The UC Irvine Anteaters were chosen to finish second in this year's Big West Preseason Poll after finishing first in 2011 and 2010 in the regular season. The Anteaters have come a long way in the last two years with a huge 2010 season that saw the team's first-ever regular season championship and advancement to the NCAA Sweet 16. Again, in 2011 the team made it to the NCAA tournament but lost a heartbreaker in the First Round. The Anteaters have amassed the most overall wins in the Big West from 2007-11 with a 64-30-10 record under head coach Scott Juniper. 

Heading into this season UC Irvine lost an overall six starters, including three of the team's best defenders which gave up just six goals in eight league games last season. Junior Natalia Ledezma is going to be the top returnee for the Anteaters with more than five goals last season. The team has enough talent for a run at another NCAA tournament appearance but they'll need to convert on some unexperienced talent that hasn't gotten the playing time in past seasons.

@ARIZONA, august 23

The Wildcats were picked to finish in last place in the 2012 Pac-12 Preseason Poll after a tough 2010 and 2011 season but don't count them out just yet. Arizona returns all 7 goal scorers in juniors Jazmin Ponce, Ana-Maria Montoya, Susana Melendez and Jessica Culver, sophomores LeeAndra Smith and Brie DeFelice, and senior Alex Smith. Junior Montoya recently returned from playing for team Colombia in the Olympics. 

Arizona has been through a couple tough seasons but return a strong, experienced lineup for 2012 and, to their credit, scheduled a tough 2011 schedule despite struggling in 2010. 

Junior Candice Osei-Agyemang will miss the first few weeks of the Wildcats' season due to U20 competition for team Ghana. 

@UTAH, august 25

The Utah Utes had, in years past, established themselves as one of the better mid-majors schools in the nation, reacing the NCAA in five-straight seasons from 2002-06 while willing four MWC titles and a pair of MWC tournament titles. At the peak of the program, the team went 16-5-1 in 2006 and finished the year ranked #18 in the final season RPI. Since then, however, it's been a different story. The Utes moved to the Pac-12 in a dry spell without a trophy or NCAA tournament bid since 2006 and in 2009 the team had its first non-winning season since 1997. 

In 2010 the team finished 10-10-2 but were able to turn things around just a big in 2011. After a tough start, the team went 6-5-0 in league play and finished in fifth place. This season, they've been chosen to finish eighth in the 2012 Preseason Poll with top returning scorers McKel Wall and Harley Spier leading the attack. 

LONG BEACH STATE, august 30

Long Beach State entered 2011 in the wake of a huge 2010 season that included winning 14 games and the Big West tournament title, and a trip to the NCAA tournament. A year later, last year, the team posted another successful season highlighted by winning five-straight games for the Big West crown (again) and an impressive run to the NCAA tournament Elite Eight. Head coach Mauricio Ingrassia has moved his team to national prominence. 

Despite some uncertainty in its returning goalkeeper position, the 49ers are strong everywhere else on the field for 2012. Senior Nadia Link returns as the team's leading scorer from last year with 16 goals and 78 shots in the 2011 season. The only missing link for 2012 will be goal scorers to accompany Link after the loss of Shawna Gordon and Nicole Hubbard's seven and eight goals, respectively, from last year. Link is on the 2012 MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List. 

COLORADO COLLEGE, september 1

The Colorado College Tigers were chosen, for the second year in a row, to finish second in the Conference USA Preseason Poll after winning nine of their final 13 games in 2011. The Tigers return four of their five top goal scorers in Kaeli Vandersluis (5), Brittney Lyman (5), Jessie Ayers (4) and Madison Whitehead (2).

Lyman is a 2011 Second Team All-C-USA selection and Ayers is the reigning C-USA Midfielder and Freshman of the Year. The Tigers' last NCAA tournament appearance was in 2006 when the team went 15-6-1. Tougher years have followed as Colorado College has tried to get back in the tournament. In 2010 and 2011 the team finished second in the league.

TEXAS, september 6

The Texas Longhorns women's soccer program has proven to be more of a roller coaster but, in the last decade, joined the rest of its school's programs in the national spotlight. Seniors Kristin Cummins and Hannah Higgins were named to the 2012 Preseason All-Big 12 team as the team's top-two leading scorers returning from last season. 

The Longhorns will be under a new head coach this season with Angela Kelly taking the wheel after spending the last 12 years with Tennesse and boosting them as one of the nation's best programs. Kelly will have a young team to work with but a lot of experience going into 2012.

Incoming freshman goalkeeper Abby Smith will miss the first few weeks of the Longhorns' season due to U20 competition for team USA.

PENN STATE, september 8

The Penn State women's soccer team has always been in the running for one of the nation's best with 16 NCAA tournament appearances since the program's first Division I season in 1994 and 26 NSCAA All-Americans. In the recently released 2012 NSCAA/ESPN Preseason Top 25 poll, Penn State was ranked ninth. 

Returning from the team's 2011 squad that made a run to the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16, a normal feat for Penn State, are top-three goal scorers Maya Hayes, Taylor Schram and Emily Hurt who netted 31, 12 and 6 goals, respectively. The team also returns four other goal scorers. 

Hayes was a finalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy last season and the led the nation with her 31 goals and 70 points, while also breaking numerous Penn State and Big Ten Records. Schram earned All-Big Ten Second Team honors in 2011 after tallying career-highs in goals, assists, points and game started. 

Juniors Schram and Hayes will miss the first few weeks of the Nittany Lions' season (including their game against BYU) due to U20 competition for team USA.

CAL POLY, september 13

The Cal Poly Mustangs were chosen sixth in the Big West 2012 Preseason Poll with junior Cici Kobinski named to the Preseason All-Big West Team. Kobinski was the fourth leading scorer on last year's squad. Teammate sophomore Sara Lancaster returns as the top scorer from 2011 with eight goals.

The Mustangs finished their disappointing 2011 season with a loss and after dropping four of their last five league games and winning the 2009 Big West Tournament title that put expectations high. The team returns its three top goal scorers and amps up their squad with 10 newcomers as they look to get back on track in 2012.

WASHINGTON, september 15

The Washington Huskies were chosen fifth in this year's Pac-12 Preseason Poll after a somewhat disappointing 2011 season, compared to 2010. After being a "bubble team" in 2010 the Huskies made an outstanding run to the Elite Eight and set expectations high for 2011. Unfortunately, last season's 7-8-5 record didn't quite live up to those expectations as it was the team's first losing season since 2007 and it also broke the team's three-season streek of NCAA tournament appearances. 

Fortunately, however, because 2011 was a bit of a challenge head coach Lesle Gallimore did a lot of juggling between the group which helped get a lot of players a decent amount of starting experience so they'll be ready for 2012. 

@UTAH STATE, september 20

The Aggies enter their final season in the Western Athletic Conference, before joining the MWC, and were picked to finished second in the 2012 WAC Preseason Poll with senior Natalie Norris named the Preseason Defensive Player of the Year and junior Kendra Pemberton named to the Preseason All-WAC Team. Pemberton returns as the team's leading scorer with seven goals last season and a school-record nine assists in a single season.

Last season for the Aggies was a chance for fans to breathe a sign of relief after the team made its first-ever NCAA tournament appearance and first-ever WAC title. After starting 2011 on a 9-0 run, fans in Logan saw a familiar scene in the middle of the season as the team lost its next four-of-five games. However, determined to prove something, the Aggies finished the year winning seven of its last eight and were rewarded with a trip to the NCAA tournament. 

With two major "firsts" for Utah State, the team will likely be riding a huge momentum wave headed into 2012.