PROVO — A quirky Mountain West Conference schedule begins Thursday night for the BYU women's soccer team, which eyes league play as a fresh-start opportunity.
As a young and inexperienced squad that took its lumps through six preseason weeks and posted an un-BYU-like 4-7-2 record, the Cougars open MWC competition with a pair of 7 p.m. home matches at South Field — Thursday against San Diego State and Saturday against UNLV.
Since the two games are the only league home dates the Cougars play until the MWC tournament returns to Provo in early November, a strong start in conference play is critical for BYU.
"Everything we've been doing since the middle of August is geared towards Thursday night," said head coach Jennifer Rockwood. "It's a new start for us."
The Cougars are coming off a 1-0 victory Saturday at Eastern Washington, which snapped a six-game winless sked that included four losses and two ties. The stretch was representative of BYU's entire preseason — a lot of narrow losses without a blowout in the bunch.
In fact, five of BYU's seven losses have been one-goal defeats; the other two were two-goal losses — a 3-1 defeat at Idaho State to open the season and last Friday's 2-0 loss to sixth-ranked Portland in a game played in eastern Washington.
"We've been in every game — we've had opportunities," Rockwood said, who has seen a defensive presence emerge as she has toyed with lineup changes of late. But she has yet to see an improving offensive attack result in goals scored. "Somehow we have to break through that barrier."
BYU has its annual fare of six conference games again this year — Colorado State doesn't participate in NCAA-sanctioned women's soccer, so the Mountain West only fields seven teams. And when the conference was created several years ago, travel pairings and other situations resulted in BYU and San Diego State having four-and-two conference schedules each year, while the rest of the league has an even split of three home and three away conference matches annually.
This year, BYU has two Mountain West home games and will finish league play with four away from Provo, while SDSU enjoys the 4-2 home-advantage conference schedule.
Although Texas Christian is set to join the conference next year, the Mountain West may still be a year away from retooling the home-and-away breakdowns. The league's tentative schedule for 2005 — with home and visiting teams swapping places in league games — has BYU with five home conference dates and just two on the road.