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BYU women's soccer team keeps up its winning tradition

Record: 8-0-1

Milestones: Earlier this year, the program and head coach Jennifer Rockwood logged their 200th overall victory.

Rankings: The Cougars are currently ranked No. 16 by Soccer Buzz, No. 17 by both Soccer America magazine and, No. 19 by NSCAA/adidas and No. 13 in the latest JSR Division I soccer power rankings.

Next up: vs. Utah State, 7 p.m. tonight at South Field; at Arizona, Saturday night.

PROVO — As the BYU women's soccer team approaches its midseason crossroads, the Cougars are hoping to continue some '07 trends and buck other trends that have developed over recent seasons.

Concluding nonconference play this week with today's 7 p.m. home match against Utah State and Saturday night's road contest at Arizona, the undefeated Cougars have amassed an 8-0-2 record and eight shutouts to date, allowed only two goals, and have slowly risen up the national rankings to the mid-teens in five major polls and power rankings.

Those are all trends BYU would like to see continue as it moves into Mountain West Conference play next week, then into November and the MWC tournament (which the Cougars will host in Provo) and the NCAA tournament.

The Cougars have been to this point before — like the previous two seasons. And the results are trends that head coach Jennifer Rockwood's squad would like to break.

In 2005, the Cougars posted an 11-0-1 preseason record and a program-best No. 6 national ranking, only to go 4-1-2 in league play. Then in the postseason, BYU was prematurely ousted from the MWC tournament by San Diego State and then lost in the NCAA first round on a double-overtime draw decided by penalty kicks to Weber State — a team that it had beaten 5-1 earlier that season as well as in all nine previous meetings.

And last year, BYU went 9-1-1 with seven shutouts in nonleague action en route to a No. 9 ranking, only to repeat the second half of the previous season with an identical 4-1-2 Mountain West record, an early elimination from the MWC tournament by UNLV and a 2-1 first-round NCAA loss to Portland.

Some other multiseason trends the Cougars would like to reverse: no conference regular-season or tournament championships since doing the Mountain West's double-title sweep annual from 1999 to 2002, no MWC tournament victory since the 2003 semifinals and no NCAA tournament win since edging Villanova in the 2003 Sweet Sixteen for a first-ever Elite Eight appearance.

So, what can make this season different than the previous two? Rockwood says team talent and depth overall has resulted in "the level of play is the best of the teams we've had."

Defensively, BYU is on target to surpass the school season record of 12 shutouts, last equaled in '06. The Cougars boast a talented backfield anchored by the likes of defenders Jessica Harmon Carter, Andrea Willis and Amanda Draeger and senior keeper Erika Woodbury — the program's career shutout and saves leader who ranked in the top 5 nationally in shutouts as well as saves and goals-against percentages.

"She's so aggressive — she comes out and takes away lots of opportunities," said Rockwood of Woodbury. "You trust what Erika can do back there."

And while scoring is still down — 11 goals to date after 13 in last year's nonleague matches compared to 26 in 2005 — Rockwood sees the Cougars with a dynamic attack capable of putting balls in the back of the net.

"They're very focused, very determined," she said, adding, "but if we continue to win 1-0 games, I'm not going to be too concerned."

Junior forward Katie Larkin — who like Harmon Carter is a candidate for the Hermann Trophy, college soccer's answer to football's Heisman Award — has scored eight of the team's 11 goals, including seven match-winning scores.

The Cougars begin Mountain West play next week, playing host to TCU on Thursday, Oct. 11, and Utah on Saturday, Oct. 13.

When it comes to conference play, "we seem to get everybody's best shot," said Rockwood. "But that's what you want — everybody's best."