PROVO — With Saturday's flooding of the Smith Fieldhouse scuttling hopes of hosting first- and second-round NCAA Tournament matches, the BYU women's soccer team ended up with the next best thing to home.
Seeded No. 4 in its 16-team bracket for its first-ever NCAA seeding, BYU (15-2-3) faces instate rival Weber State (14-6-1) in Thursday's first round on the home field of another instate rival, Utah (14-6-1), with the Utes taking on Arizona (9-7-3) in the other first-rounder.
Winners of Thursday's openers square off in Saturday's second-round match, also at Ute Field.
A top NCAA draw, the Cougars averaged an attendance of 2,069 over 12 home matches, nearly doubling last year's 1,045 average, when the Cougars were No. 10 in home attendance.
BYU's South Field neighbors Smith Fieldhouse houses interview, media, training and hosting facilities; conference rooms and locker rooms for tournament matches; and power controls for stadium lighting and sound systems. And since full power and access to the fieldhouse isn't expected until the end of the week, BYU head coach Jennifer Rockwood knew going into Monday's announcement of the 64-team field that hosting early NCAA matches was out.
"What are the odds of the fieldhouse getting flood?" she mused. "It's just one of those things you don't expect to happen and you have to deal with. You just have to go with the flow."
Monday's announcement was a far cry from 2003, the Cougars' last NCAA appearance, when Rockwood was worried her team might not be invited and the anxiety continued until BYU was one of the final teams announced.
That year, the Cougars started the first two rounds at Ute Field, upsetting No. 10 Colorado and then downing
Idaho State. An overtime win on penalty kicks at Villanova the following week sent BYU to the Elite Eight, with the Cougars' best-ever NCAA run ended with a quarterfinal loss at UConn.
BYU has already faced the other three teams in this week's Salt Lake City foursome, downing both Weber and Arizona and drawing with Utah in the regular-season finale. In fact, the Cougars went 6-0-1 against eventual NCAA teams this season, with victories against Cal, Texas, Wisconsin and UNLV aiding BYU a weekly top-25 ranking that reached as high as No. 6.
"We've played a lot of tournament teams," said Rockwood. "Hopefully it has prepared us well."
Also seeded in BYU's bracket are No. 1 Portland, No. 2 and defending champion Notre Dame and No. 3 Duke, with Portland and Duke also opening on the road. The team advancing from Salt Lake City will face either Portland, Nebraska, Creighton or Iowa, with that quartet playing in Lincoln, Neb.
Weber State is coming off its second consecutive Big Sky Conference tournament championship, having beaten Northern Arizona 4-1 last weekend in Ogden behind Rochelle Hoover's two goals and Linsey McFarland's three assists.
The Wildcats fell in the opening round of the 2004 NCAAs, losing 3-0 at fourth-ranked Portland.
Weber is on a considerable run of late, going 13-1-1 — including a seven-match win streak — in its last 15 games en route to the second-best overall record in school history.
The two teams played Sept. 2, with freshman reserve Jessica Aquino's hat trick sparking BYU's 5-1 home-opening win. It was early in the Cougars' undefeated run of 16 nonconference matches, while the Wildcats went on to drop their next three matches before ripping off their own successful stretch.
"They're twice the team we played earlier," said BYU assistant coach Chris Watkins.