The best way to describe this year’s BYU women’s soccer team is “dangerous.”

In soccer terms, “dangerous” means the ability to score early, often and from various spots on the field. The Cougars scored nine goals in their scrimmage last week, including five from the Blue team when head coach Jennifer Rockwood put her starting front line on the field.

Even though BYU was not listed in the initial Top 25 rankings this season, the Cougars return virtually its entire team that won the West Coast Conference title and advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 2018.

“Maybe some people don’t know how many players we return,” Rockwood said. “We don’t pay much attention to that. You’d like to be in the Top 25, for sure. It gives us great motivation to prove ourselves. We try to do that every day no matter where we are in the polls. We don’t take those things for granted. For one year we weren’t in the polls so it was nice to claw our way back last year. We feel like we’re a much better team and we were pretty good last year, so there is a lot to look forward to and a lot to prove.”

Where were we?

BYU recovered from a subpar 2017 with a stellar season, finishing 13-5-1 overall and winning the WCC title with an 8-1 record. That included a 2-0 victory against No. 6 Santa Clara in front of 2,259 fans at South Field in late October. The Cougars had a tough draw in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, falling 2-1 at TCU.

Senior Madie Gates, who scored five goals and added two assists, was a team leader. Midfielder Olivia Wade, who was named to the WCC All-Freshman team, decided to serve a church mission.

BYU made big strides as with its offense in 2018. The Cougars improved their goals per game average from 1.68 in 2017 to 2.58 last year.

Familiar faces

First team All-WCC senior forward Elise Flake (14 goals, 5 assists) returns for her senior season and will pair with junior Cameron Tucker (3 goals, 4 assists) to form a potent tandem on the front line. The Cougar offense will be triggered by junior midfielder Mikayla Colohan, who was also a first team All-WCC selection after scoring five goals and dropping seven assists last season.

“Mikayla is a just a special player,” Rockwood said. “We’re going to rely on her a lot. She’s just so dangerous and has so many different aspects to her game. She’s the key to our attack but she’s also one of the people we rely on for our press and our defense.”

There are plenty of options for the BYU attack. Senior Lizzy Brady (4 goals, 5 assists), sophomore Bella Folino (6 goals, 3 assists) and junior Makaylie Moore (6 goals) are also athletes who can put pressure on the opposing defense.

BYU returns all five backline players from last year’s team that surrendered just 1.11 goals per game. Seniors Alyssa Jefferson (second team All-WCC), Rachel Lyman (1 goal, 6 assists), Danika Serassio (3 assists) and Brynlee Buhler give the Cougars plenty of speed and experience and senior goalkeeper Sabrina Davis (1.02 goals against average, 48 saves) handles everything between the pipes.

“This is probably the most mature group we’ve had coming back since 2016,” Rockwood said. “We graduated our whole attacking unit in 2016, and in 2017 we graduated ten. So this year we come back and have almost everyone returning so there is a maturity and an experience and a confidence to them. It’s been really evident, especially when we put that starting group together.”

There are nine new players on the roster, with eight coming in as true freshmen and one a returned missionary in former Lone Peak standout Ellie Smith. Of the freshmen, Rockwood praised the work of midfielder SaraJayne Affleck for her performance in the team scrimmage. Jamie Shepherd, who played at American Fork High School, recently led her Utah club team to a national championship and was named the Most Valuable Player.

“We’ve had a really good dynamic with two-a-days,” Lyman said. “The upper classmen have been trying to work with the young to help get them on the same page. I think once we’re all on the same page, that’s when we’ll excel.”

Don’t miss these games

The Cougars open the 2019 season on the road at a pair of Southeast Conference schools – Alabama and Mississippi State. BYU will play its first home match against Southern Utah on Aug. 30. The Cougars host rival Utah on Sept. 6 and have a huge match against a Texas A&M team that beat them 2-0 in College Station last season. BYU is one of the favorites in the WCC and will play Santa Clara on the road and Pepperdine at home to open conference play.

“I think we just want to be even more effective this year,” Rockwood said. “We want our best defense to be that we attack a lot. We have a solid defense. Rarely in any year do you return all five starters with the back four and the keeper. That experience for us is a huge difference. I feel really good about that. We want to continue to add to our ability to make our opponents uncomfortable.”

BYU women’s soccer 2019 schedule

Pre-Season

Saturday, Aug, 17 Colorado College (exhibition), 7 p.m. MT

Thursday, Aug. 22 at Alabama, 6 p.m. MT

Saturday, Aug. 24 at Mississippi State, 6 p.m. MT

Friday, Aug. 30 Southern Utah, 8 p.m. MT

Friday, Sept. 6 Utah, 7 p.m. MT

Thursday, Sept. 12 Texas A&M, 7 p.m. MT

Monday, Sept. 16 at Utah Valley, 7:30 p.m. MT

Thursday, Sept. 19 at Kansas, 6 p.m. MT

Saturday, Sept. 21 at Kansas State, 6 p.m. MT

Thursday, Sept. 26 at Long Beach State, 8 p.m. MT

Saturday, Sept. 28 UC Irvine, 7 p.m. MT

West Coast Conference

Saturday, Oct. 5 at Santa Clara, 2 p.m. MT

Wednesday, Oct. 9 Pepperdine, 7 p.m. MT

Saturday, Oct. 12 Pacific, 7 p.m. MT

Friday, Oct. 18 Saint Mary’s, 7 p.m. MT

Wednesday, Oct. 23 at Portland, 8 p.m. MT

Saturday, Oct. 26 San Diego, 7 p.m. MT

Saturday, Nov, 2 at San Francisco, 8 p.m. MT

Wednesday, Nov. 6 at Gonzaga, 8 p.m. MT

Saturday, Nov. 9 Loyola Marymount, 7 p.m. MT

Five story lines to follow in 2019

1. Keep your head on a swivel

BYU opponents will have a difficult time keying on any one individual player to stop the offensive attack. The Cougars return 90 percent of its scoring (goals and assists) from 2018 and the playmaking ability of junior midfielder Mikayla Colohan will spread the ball around the field to her teammates.

2. Defense rules

BYU returns four stellar defensive players and goalkeeper Sabrina Davis after allowing just 1.11 goals per game last season. The Cougars best defense, according to head coach Jennifer Rockwood, is a potent offense and constant pressure all over the pitch.

3. Protecting the home field

BYU was just 4-4-1 at South Field in 2017 but upped that mark to 6-2 with one of those losses to No. 1 Stanford. There are some difficult games at home this season, including Utah and Texas A&M in the preseason.

4. Something to prove

Despite a WCC Championship in 2018 the Cougars were not among the Top 25 teams in this year’s preseason rankings.

“All of us just want to play with a chip on our shoulder and show everyone who we really are,” senior Rachel Lyman said. “We lost some close games last season. We want to have a good preseason, get ranked and show everyone what BYU is really like.”

5. Consistent excellence

Jennifer Rockwood is the only coach the Cougars have ever known. Since 1995, Rockwood has posted a 375-113-43 record, a .747 winning percentage that is third among active NCAA coaches. Rockwood was also 128-25-9 in six years as the program’s club coach before it went Division I. BYU is fortunate to have such an experienced and successful coach on the sideline.

Follow Darnell Dickson on Twitter @darnellwrites or e-mail him at ddickson@heraldextra.com.

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!