SANTA CLARA, Calif. - After wrapping-up an undefeated month of September and finishing non-conference play, No. 21 Santa Clara women's soccer will travel to No. 6 BYU to take on the Cougars on Fri., Oct. 5 at 5 p.m. Pacific in its first West Coast Conference match-up of 2012. The Broncos played their fifth overtime game of the season vs. Fresno State on Sept. 27 and came away with a 3-2 win.
With conference play getting underway, Smith and the Broncos know how competitive the West Coast Conference will be this year. The WCC has three teams ranked in the top-25 (No. 6 BYU, No. 19 Pepperdine and No. 21 Santa Clara) with one more (Portland) receiving votes. The conference also boasts four teams with an RPI in the top-25. No. 4 BYU, No. 8 Santa Clara, No. 19 Pepperdine and No. 23 Portland all have eyes on capturing a conference title.
"It's a very strong conference that has four or five teams with an RPI of 30 or less," said Smith of the 2012 edition of the WCC. "It's a very tough conference but we played a very tough non-conference schedule to prepare ourselves for that and we've played in some tough environments like at Stanford, Cal and Notre Dame. When we have to play at BYU or at Pepperdine, for example, hopefully our team will be a little more prepared to deal with those environments. There's no place in the conference to relax or to take a game off. Every game we will have to play well and it's one of the main reasons we choose our non-conference schedule the way we do and I think it's prepared us well for the conference schedule."
Smith and his staff try to schedule the best non-conference opponents possible to help prepare the team for the NCAA Tournament. This season, however, the WCC portion of the Bronco schedule will be just as challenging and helpful in getting the team ready to make a deep run to the College Cup.
"Some conferences don't have the luxury of having a lot of high-RPI teams so their RPI tends to drop when they play their conference schedule," added Smith. "Fortunately we're in a very good conference with a very high rating and many teams that have very high RPIs. We would like to maintain a top-10 RPI which means winning a lot of games against tough teams but I think our conference will allow us to do that should we take care of business. We're looking forward for to the opportunity to prepare ourselves for the NCAA Tournament by playing more tough teams week in and week out."
Last season BYU visited the Mission campus and battled with the Broncos to a 0-0 tie in double overtime. Santa Clara outshot the Cougars 19-9 but BYU had the edge in shots on goal at 6-4. With the tie Santa Clara is now 6-0-1 all-time vs. BYU. Santa Clara has visited Provo once, in the 2000 NCAA Tournament where the Broncos came away with a 2-1 overtime win en route to a quarterfinals appearance. Santa Clara played the Cougars four straight years in the NCAA Tournament from 1997-2000 and won each game.
"The most important thing we can do is keep the ball well," said Santa Clara head coach Jerry Smith. "BYU has a great home-crowd field and every time they cause a turnover their crowd will get excited. They play a counterattack style of play so every time you turn the ball over they go quickly towards the goal and that gets their fans energized. The less we can turn it over and create counterattack opportunities for them, the more we have a chance to reduce the crowd effect in the game and I think that will be very important."
Santa Clara enters conference play with a 7-2-3 record while riding a three game winning streak and an eight game unbeaten streak in which it has gone 5-0-3. The last time Santa Clara had an undefeated month of September was 1999 when the team went 23-1-0 with its only loss coming to Notre Dame in the College Cup. The Broncos have outscored opponents 21-15 in 2012 and 15-7 during their unbeaten streak. They have also fired 93 shots on goal and allowed just 60 to their opponents.
Senior captain Lauren Matheson leads the team with four goals, including two in the win over Fresno State. Sofia Huerta, Julie Johnston and Olivia Klei are tied for second on the team with three goals each while Sarah Jackson and Dani Weatherholt have scored two times apiece. Jackson leads the team with three assists and there is a tie for second on the team with two assists between five players. Huerta is by far the leader on the team in shots, attempting 44 while the next closest, Jackson, has taken 24. Freshman goalkeeper Andi Tostanoski continues to impress and has 43 saves and four shutouts while playing all but one half.
BYU is 11-1-0 on the year and 7-0-0 at home. The Cougars only loss came at Utah by a score of 1-0. They have taken down No. 6 Penn State 3-1, No. 11 Long Beach State 1-0 and No. 23 Washington 3-1 with all three wins coming at home. BYU has outscored its opponents 26-6 and outshot them 214-96.
Jaiden Thornock, Michele Murphy and Jessica Ringwood lead the team with five goals scored each. Carlee Holmoe is leading the team in points (14) and assists (6) while being second in goals (4). Thornock and Murphy each had three assists and four others have two each. Erica Owens has been fantastic in goal for the Cougars by allowing just a 0.52 GAA and picking up 37 saves which is good for a .860 save percentage. Owens also has seven shutouts.