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This year, Cougars looking to finish

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PROVO — At the start of the 2006 season, BYU women's soccer coach Jennifer Rockwood is still concerned about the Cougars' ability to finish.

Finishing, like BYU converting its high-pressure offensive attack into not just shots, but goals. And finishing, like how the Cougars finished the 2005 season — ranked as high as No. 6 nationally at one point with a glossy 11-1 midseason record and four victories over top-25 opponents before first-round upset losses in both the Mountain West Conference and NCAA tournaments.

The latter — a shoot-out loss in penalty kicks to Weber State — was especially painful, considering BYU was one of 16 teams seeded in the NCAA's College Cup.

"How we finish is what everybody remembers," Rockwood said. "We want to be at our very best in November come tournament time."

With that goal in mind, the Cougars open the 2006 season Friday at home, and who might be the opponent in the 7 p.m. match at South Field? None other than Weber State.

"After what happened last year, everybody is especially anxious," admitted Rockwood of not only the season-ending loss to the Wildcats but the Cougars' drop to a 15-2-4 record and No. 23 ranking

And why should BYU be anxious, given the return of eight starters from last year, including Katie Larkin — a first-team all-MWC selection and all-West honoree by several publications after her freshman year — a host of front-line talent and junior goalkeeper Erika Woodbury, who along with the Cougar defenders spent much of the '05 season ranked among the nation's stingiest defenses.

"We've got a lot of depth this year — it's one of our strengths," Rockwood said.

So much so that the forwards will be a much-rotated unit featuring the likes of Larkin, Bobbi Tillotson, Jessica Aquino, Carolyn Swenson, Annie Zwahlen and others, allowing Rockwood to keep "fresh legs" on the field for the Cougar attack.

The depth also means that the graduation of heralded midfielders Jaime Beck and Charlene Lui doesn't leave the midfield — key to BYU's offense — depleted of talent. Rockwood is expecting strong play and leadership from Natalie Nate, Larkin, redshirt freshman Kelsa Kakadelas and Claire Thomas to keep the position solid again in 2006.

The fact that Larkin will be moving back to midfield for a good share of time and Thomas — a stellar Cougar defender the past three seasons — will be moving up a slot underscores the depth at the two ends of the field.

Defenders Karen Cook and Heidi Dearborn are among a solid crop of freshman ready to step into the starting lineup after a strong spring season, and Jessica Harmon — a freshman starter last year who suffered an ACL knee injury in the spring — has just been cleared to play and will slowly work her way back into the unit.

Soccer season opener

Weber State at BYU

Friday, 7 p.m.

South Field in Provo

E-mail: taylor@desnews.com