The No. 9-ranked BYU women's soccer team has had multiple games at South Field this year where the Cougar players came in knowing they needed to be at their best to take down a nationally-ranked opponent.
Thursday night, BYU found itself in the opposite position — as the overwhelming favorite against an upset-minded squad from Utah Valley University.
The Wolverines used an energetic defense to frustrate the Cougar attack for much of the game but BYU eventually managed to break through and earn the 1-0 win.
"We want to be the target, the team that people are chasing," said Cougar head coach Jennifer Rockwood. "It means we've been winning games. We know we are going to get people's best but every game is important."
Although BYU had far more scoring opportunities than the Wolverines in the first half, it wasn't until the final minute of action before the break that the home team finally put one away.
The goal was set up by a long pass from Cougar senior defender Dana Oldroyd Cusick that got the ball to senior midfielder Jessica Ringwood just behind the UVU defense.
As Ringwood pushed the ball toward the goal, Wolverine junior keeper Lauren Sack came sliding in, trying to push the ball away. Ringwood had just enough time to pop it over Sack, then smoothly placed it into the open net.
"It was a great through-ball and the keeper came out, but I was able to go around her and score," Ringwood said. "In-state games can be tough, so it was good to go into halftime with the lead."
That one goal, however, proved to be the only time that BYU could find a way to get the ball past Sack, who had an exceptional game.
"That's what we've been looking for from her," said Wolverine head coach Brent Anderson. "She had an injury early in the season and has been getting back in, but that's what we expect and what she is capable of."
Twice the Cougars had well-placed shots — one by sophomore forward Jaiden Thornock and another by junior Cloee Colohan — that appeared to be going in until Sack somehow managed to tip them off the crossbar and out.
"Sometimes the ball goes in and tonight it didn't for us," Rockwood said. "We had some great chances and we created good looks, but it wasn't our night to score."
BYU tallied 21 shots for the game, led by five by Ringwood, but many were off-target or challenged by the packed-in defense.
"We are an attacking team and it's hard when it's that crowded," Ringwood said. "We had to adjust, pass the ball around and wait for opportunities."
The problem for UVU proved to be that with so much focus on defense, it couldn't get much at the other end. The Wolverines only tallied two shots against the stout Cougar backline.
"We knew this was going to be a very difficult game because it's been difficult for everyone BYU has played," Anderson said. "We came in with a game plan of playing strong defense and hoping to spring someone on the counterattack. I was impressed by BYU but we were able to hold it together."
UVU had one really good scoring chance on a counter when senior Regan Benson nearly slipped a perfect cross to junior Natalie Baker inside the Cougar penalty box. The ball bounced just a little long, however, and that allowed BYU senior keeper Erica Owens to just barely win the race to the ball.
"We told the defense to look for the counter," Rockwood said. "We wanted to make sure they weren't able to serve the ball over the top and to limit their set pieces. We did a great job of keeping the ball in front of us."
The victory means the Cougars (11-1) have completed the preseason and now turn their attention to the tough West Coast Conference.
"We haven't talked a lot about conference play but we'll start addressing it," Rockwood said.
BYU starts by host another ranked team in Santa Clara on Oct. 5 at 6 p.m. at South Field.
UVU (1-9-1) next plays at Loyola Marymount on Sept. 30 at 2 p.m.
Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He can also be followed on Twitter at @JaredrLloyd.