PROVO — The BYU and Utah State University women's soccer teams have both qualified for this year's NCAA Tournament, and one of them is guaranteed of advancing since they square off against each other in the tournament's opening round on Friday at 6 p.m. at BYU's South Field.
The Cougars enter postseason play in as good a spot as any BYU team in history, as the NCAA gave the Cougars one of its four No. 1 seeds and a subsequent opportunity to host its first four games.
"The fact that we earned a number one seed says a lot about what our girls have been able to accomplish this year and the level of competition that we've played," said BYU coach Jennifer Rockwood. "I figured we'd be a one or a two (seed), but to be able to pull off a one — we're real excited about that, and we love our draw."
BYU finished the regular season with an 18-1-1 record, a West Coast Conference championship and a No. 4 national ranking after closing its campaign on a 17-game unbeaten. All three accomplishments met and surpassed Rockwood's two preseason goals of getting back to the NCAA Tournament and winning the conference championship.
"We've done that and then some," she said.
The Cougars faced the Aggies on the road earlier this year and came away with a 1-0 win in Logan. BYU's Dana Oldroyd Cusick scored the only goal of the match.
"It was a very good game when we went up and played (Utah State), and they're a very good team," said Rockwood. "The teams are very familiar with each other, with each team having a lot of in-state players, but we'll approach this like we do every game — we just need to play the way we know we can play against whoever we go up against."
Utah State is making its second straight trip to the NCAA Tournament, and the Aggies earned the Western Athletic Conference's automatic bid by defeating No. 19 Denver in the finals of the WAC Tournament, 1-0, on Sunday.
Utah State is 13-2-6 overall this season and has won eight straight matches. In fact, the Aggies have an 11-match unbeaten streak, with their last loss coming against BYU on Sept. 20.
But the Aggies have never beaten BYU, which leads the series between the two schools 10-0-0.
"We have played BYU earlier in the year, and they are an opponent that we are very familiar with since we play them in the spring as well," said USU head coach Heather Cairns. "The plus of it is that it is just a short bus ride down the road. Our legs aren't going to be tired from traveling. We had such great fan base for our conference tournament and this allows those fans to see us play on the biggest stage in the country in the NCAA Tournament."
The Aggies' team and coaching staff watched the NCAA selection show together in Logan.
"That was so much more fun that last year since last year we were on the way back from the WAC Tournament in Fresno," said USU senior defender Natalie Norris. "This year, to be able to be here with our coaching staff and support staff and see our name come up on the NCAA bracket, it was so fun and so exhilarating, and even to see that we are playing BYU. It is an opponent we know; it is an opponent we have played. We know it will be a dang good game."
The winner of the match between the Aggies and the Cougars will face the winner of the Washington (10-7-3) vs. Auburn (12-10-1) match in the second round.
As a No. 1 seed, BYU has its sights set on advancing to the NCAA Final Four in San Diego on Nov. 30, which would be farther than any BYU women's soccer team has finished.
"We have a favorable draw as a No. 1 seed and we like our chances," said Rockwood. "We're playing well as a team and we're very excited about where we're at and how the tournament sets up."
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