BYU Soccer Begins New Season, WCC Era
The No. 17 BYU women’s soccer team opens the 2011 season Friday night in Seattle as the Cougars face the 19th-ranked Washington Huskies.
Head coach Jennifer Rockwood returns nine starters from last year’s squad that captured the Mountain West Conference regular season and conference tournament championships and competed in the NCAA tournament for the sixth consecutive time.
DSB contributor, Walt Hanssen, sat down with Rockwood just prior to the kickoff to the season to get some of her thoughts about the state of the program and becoming a member of the very competitive West Coast Conference.
Hanssen: “Coach, I think I can say confidently that you are the LaVell Edwards of the BYU women’s soccer program. You have been ranked in the top 25 for nine out of the last 10 years. What is it like having built this program and what kind of pressure is there on you year in and year out?”
Rockwood: “Well, thank you. That sounds like quite a compliment to be compared to the great LaVell Edwards. I have great memories of him. He was always very kind to me when I first started out here at BYU, so he is just a great man.
“We have just been very fortunate to have some great success here and one of things I have done is surrounded myself with some great people and that is always the key. I’ve got an amazing staff that has been with me for a long time. I think that really helps with the consistency of the program and working with the players, year in year out. So I have had Chris (Watkins) and Aleisha (Rose) and Jenny Smith with me for all this time and this has really helped me to become a better coach and definitely made a huge impact on the players and the program.
“You know the opportunity we have to recruit such outstanding young women is obviously the key. You have to have great players to win games and . . . so most of the success we have had is in part because of the players. Their commitment to not just the sport but also to BYU–being representatives of BYU and taking that seriously is very important to them. They know that they are representing more than just themselves and their team but something greater, and I think that gives them the desire to really become and want to be their very best both on and off the field. And so we talk a lot about that and we expect a lot from our players. We expect to be a team to beat and so we go in each year having those high expectations.
“Being ranked is obviously something that we shoot for, we want to finish strong and go deep into the NCAA tournament. And there is a bit of the pressure when you have created so many years of having great seasons and winning conference championships. But, I think that is a much better place to be in than anywhere else. And so going into this season we return a lot of players and so there is a lot of pressure and the girls I feel it and we as coaches feel it because we are so excited about the potential of this team and we have a very difficult schedule. So we have our hands full, but ultimately we are looking at the positive aspect of things and shooting to go as high as we can.”
Hanssen: “That leads us to the question of switching from the Mountain West Conference to the West Coast Conference. How does that affect you logistically, and knowing that you have two teams in Portland (No. 7) and Santa Clara (No. 15) that start the season ranked ahead of you? You face some real challenges coming into this new league.”
Rockwood: “You know, we have had a lot of success in the Mountain West Conference and it has been a good run for us in the past years but certainly as we move into the West Coast Conference on a soccer scene is a big step up. Having the national presence of the WCC not just with Portland and Santa Clara, who have won recent national championships–but also with the likes of the University of San Diego, Pepperdine and LMU (Loyola Marymount University), those are teams who have been in and out of the top 25 over the last several years.
“So, you know top to bottom, it is a very, very competitive conference, but again you know you want to go out and play the best teams so you can get better. So we know it will be a great challenge for us but we are really looking forward to the level of competition and hopefully we can add to the strength that the WCC already has especially on the national scene.”
Hanssen: “Does it change your recruiting at all moving from one conference to another?”
Rockwood: “I do not think that for us at BYU that it will change the recruiting. You know a lot of people will say, oh, this will be great for recruiting, but I personally believe that the kids we recruit are coming to BYU because of the environment and the academics and obviously the soccer. But you know it is more than just the soccer, and so I think we will still recruit the same kids, players that are playing at a high level but also are great in academics and also want to be at BYU because of the unique environment that we do have here. And so I do not think that it changes a lot, but certainly it gives us even more credibility when we get to play the teams that are in the WCC.”
Hanssen: “You know some of the other teams here at BYU, like the football and basketball teams are trying to recruit some of the best non-member student athletes who are able to come here and live under the Honor Code. Is that something that is part of your recruiting philosophy as well?”
Rockwood: “We will always look and have always looked for the top girls who are interested in coming to BYU, but our priority is to find the top LDS (players) across the country and the world to bring them here to help our program. Currently, right now all of our players are members of the Church who are on the team. We have in the past few years recruited non-member players, especially those here from Utah who would be very familiar with the expectations and the culture here at BYU. We are always open to find the best fit to help us to come here and help strengthen our team but again right now our current focus is to bring in the top LDS kids.”
Hanssen: “As you switch conferences, how does that affect your non-conference scheduling?”
Rockwood: “Well we do our scheduling in advance so I actually had this season and next season’s preseason schedule already planned and we usually play a very competitive non-conference schedule. And now when you combine that with a very competitive new conference schedule with some tough teams, for the next two years we will really have our hands full. But again, we have got to go out there and see what we are capable of and see how good we can be so we will find out a lot about ourselves in the next couple of weeks.”
Hanssen: “Any final thoughts as you get ready to kickoff your season Friday night?”
Rockwood: “Just the fact that this is a great time of year when there is a great amount of anticipation and going into our first away game against the University of the Washington (who made it to the Sweet 16 last season) will be a big challenge for us. We have played there several times and it is a great environment, but we hope that our fans will come and support the girls when we open up here against the University of Utah next Tuesday night. So we are just really excited, the girls have been working very hard and always put on a good show and we hope to have a lot of success this year.
Kickoff for the Utah game on Tuesday is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. MT at South Field and will be televised live nationally on BYUtv.
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