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PROVO — The college football season doesn’t open for another week, when BYU hosts FCS foe Portland State on Aug. 24.
But the college fútbol season is here.
The eighth-ranked BYU women’s soccer team opens the season Friday at Penn State, the top-rated team in the nation by TopDrawerSoccer.com and a preseason coaches' favorite to win the Big Ten Conference. Three days later, the Cougars — ranked No. 8 nationally by the United Soccer Coaches — head home for a 5:30 p.m. MDT kickoff against Ohio State.
Utah State also opens the season Friday with a 4 p.m. kickoff against South Dakota State in Logan, and Utah Valley travels to Hawaii for its season-opener. No. 20 Utah opens the season at home Sunday against North Dakota State in a noon kickoff.
It’s an exciting time of year in college soccer, especially for a BYU squad eager to prove itself with a number of losses to graduation and a challenging non-conference schedule.
"We’re playing against the best teams in the country right now, and that definitely prepares us for the West Coast Conference … and for the postseason,” said assistant coach Brent Anderson, who spent 11 seasons at Utah Valley. “Coming from a different program, I’ve seen all different types of schools and scheduling. Some coaches pad their schedule with a lot of wins early, then they get to conference play and falter. If they scrape through, they aren’t ready for the postseason.
“The way that (head coach Jennifer Rockwood) has set up this schedule tests the team and prepares them for conference play and beyond.”
The Cougars faced plenty of turnover from the 2016 squad, including leading goal-scorer Ashley Hatch (who now plays for the North Carolina Courage of the National Women’s Soccer League) and 2016 West Coast Conference player of the year Michele Vasconcelos (drafted by the NWSL’s Chicago Red Stars).
Between Hatch, Vasconcelos, Elena Medeiros, Paige Barker and Jocelyn Loomis, the Cougars lost five of their top six scorers, 45 goals, 32 assists and starting goalkeeper Rachel Boaz.
But they return a back line with plenty of experienced, anchored by defenders Stephanie Ney, Taylor Isom and Danika Bowman, as well as goalkeeper Hannah Clark, who started a dozen matches in 2016 and helped pitch 13 shutouts.
“Me and Steph had a year off, but now Danika has been pushed up and Alyssa (Jefferson) is returning with Brynlee Welch,” said Isom, a candidate for the MAC Hermann Trophy given to college soccer’s best overall player. “It’s really kind of fun. We could put anybody there; against Oklahoma, there were six different defenders … and we know each other’s tendencies, and it’s a great feeling.”
The Cougars also added a recruiting class that includes freshman Mikayla Colohan, the reigning Deseret News Ms. Soccer who led Davis High to three-straight Class 5A state titles; former Lone Peak standouts Cameron Tucker and Ellie Smith; and California all-state defender Josie Guinn, whose brother Davin played basketball at BYU.
Now it’s time for the Cougars to prove themselves against a national schedule.
“We’ve been looking forward to it all summer,” midfielder Bizzy Bowen said. “We’ve been working our butts off. Travel will be hard. But besides that, we couldn’t be more excited to play these teams.”