PROVO — This group of girls is used to lofty goals. They perennially set their sights on Mountain West Conference regular season and tournament titles and NCAA tournament appearances. And they like to get a couple of wins under their belts once they arrive in the biggest venues. They also don't set up patsy schedules to build up big win totals.
This season is no different for the BYU soccer team.
"We'd like to get better each game and improve — win or lose. Our goal is to be a contender for the regular season and conference tournament championships, and we hope to do well in the NCAA tournament. This team has high expectations, and as the conference teams get better every year, our team has had to learn to deal with pressure and have fun along the way," said BYU coach Jennifer Rockwood.
And without the scoring prowess of Katie Larkin, the team will rely on a variety of attacks and attackers. There will be more reliance on versatility and balance, as well.
"Without Katie, we're going to rely on a lot of people. Several players will have to step up their game and score for us," said Rockwood.
But perhaps the one player who will take the staring role this season is Andrea Willis, who added an All-American year to her resume last year and has been named to the 2009 Missouri Athletic Club's Hermann Trophy Watch List, which includes the top 45 players to watch in the country. Willis is the only player to be nominated in the Mountain West Conference and is only the fourth Cougar to ever receive the nomination. The trophy is one of the highest awards one can receive in intercollegiate soccer.
But Willis won't be doing much scoring for the Cougars as she plays on the back line and will be heavily counted on to shore up the Cougars' defense. Willis tore her ACL prior to her first season with BYU but has since been a leader both on and off the field.
In addition to Willis, the defense will count heavily on sophomore goalkeeper McKinzie Olson, who will be returning with an extra year of experience and some confidence.
The Cougars also will be looking heavily to Lauren Anderson, who is a dangerous attacking player. Kassidy C. Shumway will be playing either at forward or in the midfield, a decision that will be sorted out before the conference season starts.
Alyssa Vander Veur and Auna Janis also can handle some of the scoring load. Janis did rack up three game-winning goals last season.
Incoming freshmen Lindsi Lisonbee and Jessica Ringwood also should see some pretty solid playing time and have been very impressive in preseason practices and the team's first couple of games.
Carlee Payne, another incoming freshman, will be playing the same position left vacant by Larkin's graduation. Rockwood is excited by her ability and the high level of training she has received.
"She should be a threat from the beginning," said Rockwood.
But the team's versatility will make for a bit of a confusing preseason for fans as Rockwood tries to take the players and figure out where each fits in well to the team scheme.
"We have to find the right combination. We take great pride in our defense, but we'd like to be considered a possession team that attacks as often as possible. We want to create a lot of opportunities to score and then to finish it off," said Rockwood.
Though her team did give itself a lot of opportunities against Hawaii in its second game of the season, neither team scored, and the Cougars had to settle for a tie after taking a 7-0 win over Dixie State in an exhibition to start the season.
The Cougars are heading to a tournament in Pennsylvania this weekend, and they will play No. 20 UConn on Saturday and No. 14 West Virginia on Monday. Those two matchups should give the Cougars a good idea of where they are heading into a tough season.
The first home game will be against William and Mary on Sept. 4 at 7 p.m.