Things have not gone as planned in conference play for the BYU women’s soccer team after beginning its inaugural Big 12 schedule ranked No. 1 in the nation.

Currently the Cougars sit in third place in their new league — a league that they were picked to win in preseason polling. Though BYU has not dropped a match in conference play, it has nearly as many draws as wins, going 4-0-3 and surprisingly just one victory in Provo through its first seven Big 12 matches.

“We’ve never played on Mondays. That’s a tough game to play because we don’t practice on Sunday. Most teams have never had to prepare for a game where you don’t get to train the day before. So I think logistically, we’ll have some things we’ll have to get used to.” — BYU soccer coach Jennifer Rockwood

If the Cougars remain in third place, they would fall below their aspirations, the school placing first or second in the West Coast Conferenc standings each of the last five seasons. 

“That’s just something our program’s always done — the expectation is for us to win a conference championship no matter what conference,” BYU coach Jennifer Rockwood said. Rockwood and her squad have their work cut out for them if they are going to reach that goal in their initial Big 12 season.

With just three matches left, a few factors have contributed to the Cougars facing such an uphill climb to achieve their lofty goals, after the second third of the season saw the school soaring to new heights atop the national rankings.

One reason has been BYU’s struggles at the beginning of matches, often falling behind early, forcing multiple comebacks for the school to earn points. The Cougars have only won one conference match when they have allowed a goal.

“To give up goals early on is something we can’t do if we expect to go as far as we’d like to,” Rockwood said in an interview with BYU sportscaster Greg Wrubell last week. “We just have to have a better defensive presence.

“We obviously don’t want to get behind. I think we’ve had our fair share of having to chase the game this season. We don’t want to do that anymore. … It’s going to happen at some points, but I think we know that we have the ability to overcome it.”

How Jennifer Rockwood turned BYU women’s soccer into a national brand

Another factor that has challenged the Cougars is the unfamiliarity of a new league after the school played 12 seasons in the West Coast Conference, matching the Mountain West Conference as the program’s longest-tenured league.

“In the WCC, being in there so long, we were somewhat familiar with the teams — how they play, their style,” Rockwood said. “Now, obviously, as a staff we’re going to have to watch a lot more film during conference (play) than we’ve had in the past.”

Another adjustment that BYU has faced this season has been differences in its schedule — something that has posed unique challenges.

“We’ve never played on Mondays,” Rockwood said. “That’s a tough game to play because we don’t practice on Sunday. Most teams have never had to prepare for a game where you don’t get to train the day before. So I think logistically, we’ll have some things we’ll have to get used to.”

Despite struggling to meet their own high standards, the Cougars find themselves in the mix down the stretch of the season.

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Positioned in third place in the Big 12, BYU sits four points behind league leader Texas Tech, which remains, with the Cougars, as the only team in the conference with an unblemished record.

Though there’s still a chance for the Cougars to win the league in the regular season, they most likely will have to redeem themselves at the end of this month when they play in their first conference tournament since their final season in the Mountain West Conference.

BYU ultimately won that postseason tournament and remains hopeful it can have a similar result in a new league. The school will look to make the most of its postseason opportunity and rectify its mistakes in league play, hoping to recapture the success that got it ranked No. 1 earlier this season. 

Prior to tournament play, the Cougars will go back on the road to face Oklahoma State Thursday before finishing their regular season next week in matches versus Oklahoma and UCF.

BYU soccer fans cheer on the Cougars during a match against Texas Tech at South Field in Provo on Oct. 6, 2023. | Donovan Kelly, BYU Photo
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