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Can BYU women’s soccer immediately thrive in the Big 12?

BYU coach Jennifer Rockwood speaks to the women’s soccer team after a goalless tie with Ohio State at South Field in Provo, August 21, 2017. After another year in the WCC, Rockwood will lead the Cougars to the Big 12 in 2023. (Jaren Wilkie, photo by BYU)

Estimated reading time: 6-7 minutes

PROVO – Living on the East Coast and scoring tons of points for the Washington Spirit in the Women’s National Football League, Ashley Hatch admits she doesn’t return to Utah as often as she or her Utah-born husband would like, so the chance to play in front of friends and family for the US women’s team at the Rio Tinto stadium is special for BYU alumni.

But whenever she finds herself in a hive state, she always goes to the same place. Back in Provo, back to her old games, and back to the one person she always sees: her old coach, Jennifer Rockwood, who first accepted the BYU women’s football program into the NCAA in 1995 and has remained there ever since.

“Jen is a legend and I’m so happy for her and the program and everything they accomplished last year,” said Hatch, who closely followed the Cougars’ historic 17-5-2 run and national championship match. “It definitely deserves it. She works hard with this team and deserves everything. I’m happy to follow all their progress.”

The Cougars will try to repeat last year’s streak, even without the likes of current NWSL pros Mikayla Colohan and Cameron Tucker or longtime starting goaltender Cassidy Smith. But the foundation, which includes Jamie Shepherd, Natalie Wells, Olivia Wade and Brecken Mozingo, continues to move forward.

And with Rockwood at the helm, Hatch is confident in the team’s next big move.

Much will be done starting Wednesday—if it hasn’t already been done—about the Cougars’ transition to the Big 12, when the university hosts the last day of independence-era football media FBS at the BYU Broadcasting Building. Independence is one year away, and Olympic sports like women’s soccer are one year away from the West Coast conference, but in many ways the program should be preparing for the Big 12 now.

And for BYU football, they already exist.

Under Rockwood’s leadership, the Cougars have built one of the best football programs in the country with a .714 win percentage and NCAA tournament appearances in 20 of the last 25 years, along with 27 All-Americans, five MAC Hermann Trophy semi-finalists. , and one finalist in Colohan in the college football version of the Heisman Trophy last year.

BYU's Mikayla Colohan passes the ball against Portland during the Pooms regular season finale, Saturday, April 17, 2021, in Provo.
BYU’s Mikayla Colohan passes the ball against Portland during the Pooms regular season finale, Saturday, April 17, 2021, in Provo. (Photo: Nate Edwards, BYU Photo)

They also went toe-to-toe with some of the best programming in the country, and that’s not going to change this fall, with non-conference performances starting August 13 in North Carolina, while home shows in Alabama, Arkansas and Utah will continue along with the tour. trips to Colorado and Ohio, among others.

“Honestly, I think BYU’s style of play will fit in (okay, the Big 12),” Hatch said. “They are a very attacking team, very aggressive, very fast and I think they will be very successful.

“Girls coming to play for BYU can expect a lot when they play the Big 12.”

Consistently ranked in the top 25 in the Coaches Poll, BYU Women’s Soccer has largely shed the oft-quoted “middle major” label given to schools outside of the Power Five or Power Six conferences with the Big East in some sports such as basketball. — and in many respects so is his conference.

In last year’s final coach rankings, three teams from the West Coast Conference made it into the top 25, compared to three from the Pac-12s, two from the American Athletic Conference, and just one from the Big 12 – No. 9 TCU. .

The Horned Frogs have been well known by BYU since their Mountain West days, and last year’s regular season Big 12 champions are still actively recruiting in BYU territory, including California and parts of Utah, such as recent standout from Waterford “Seven Kastains”. They also have only six NCAA Tournament appearances – all since joining the Big 12 – including round-of-the-box berths in the last two tournaments.

Aside from TCU, the number of consecutive NCAA tournament teams in the Big 12 is hardly limitless. In some ways, the WCC top three of BYU, Santa Clara, and Pepperdine might even be better.

Texas boasts one of the most impressive historical resumes in the league, with 15 NCAA tournament appearances since 2001 and four round of 16 trips. history with them.

But compare that to No. 4 Santa Clara, a two-time NCAA Tournament Champion with 12 College Cup appearances since 1989. Or even Portland, a program that only ranked fifth in the WCC a year ago but also boasts alumni like Shannon MacMillan. , Christine Sinclair and Megan Rapinoe of the US and Canadian women’s teams, as well as two national titles, eight College Cup berths and 14 national quarterfinal appearances.

Even No. 13 Pepperdine, a relative newcomer to the national scene, boasts 11 NCAA Tournament appearances and three Round of 16 berths in 24 seasons under head coach Tim Ward.

And, of course, there’s BYU, who finished second nationally last season after losing to Florida State on penalties in the College Cup final.

“We’re lucky to play in the WCC, a very good women’s football conference where Santa Clara and Pepperdine are also in the top 15,” Rockwood said. told BYuTV recently. “Our conference continues to improve, from top to bottom, and we have one more year to really get ready for that. But we have a great non-conference schedule…and expect to be ready for the Big 12 in 2023.

“The same expectations will follow us as we head to the new conference.”

Much remains to be decided about the future of BYU in the Big 12, including how many Cougars conferences will host Olympic sports each year. Rockwood has hinted that an unbalanced schedule is possible and it is likely that the teams will not play each other more than once per season rather than an annual house-to-house arrangement.

It’s also becoming increasingly likely that Texas and Oklahoma will remain in the league through at least the 2023-24 season, marking a 14-team conference that also includes Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF. The Longhorns and Sooners do not have a contract to join the SEC until 2025.

This does not mean, of course, that participation in the conference is not worth it. Adding resources and being included in the Power Five is worth any jump. But that may not change as much as you think about the power of women’s football at Wasatch Front.

However, this is a positive step forward.

“I think it’s a good, positive change that being able to play against such quality teams will only help us get better,” Hatch said. “I think it will only help us get better and help Jen in the recruiting process – girls who want to play in a bigger conference will have the opportunity to go to BYU.

“This opens a lot of doors for BYU sports in general, but especially for the women’s soccer team.”

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A proud graduate of Syracuse University, Sean Walker has been covering BYU for KSL.com since 2015, as well as prep sports, education, and everything else his editors assign him to do.

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