Friday, 7:00 PM – BYU vs Weber State
This one had an air of inevitability about it ever since Weber State prevailed against Portland State in the Big Sky Tournament final. WSU probably should be facing a seeded team, but BYU isn’t far off from that, so the Wildcats still come into this one with the odds stacked against them. Local rivals they may be, but BYU still hasn’t played against the Big Sky side since a 5-1 mauling in 2010 in Provo. Jennifer Rockwood will be hoping this matchup doesn’t draw comparisons with their last NCAA Tournament meeting in 2005, when the Cougars were shocked in penalties by their Ogden neighbors. The Cougars come into this one as one of the nation’s form sides having won their past seven and nine of their past ten after a midseason slump threatened their postseason ambitions. BYU’s rode a great defense to success in the WCC, keeping a shutout streak of five straight games at one point, no slight success given the fact that that streak included wins against Portland and Pepperdine. They leaked a bit in the final weekend, but there were few doubts as to who the superior side was in each win. The backline still lacks experience on the whole after losing some veteran muscle last season, but it helps to have one of the nation’s best goalkeepers in Erica Owens in between the pipes as well as the combination of Cloee Colohan and Rachel Manning in midfield to disrupt the opposition’s passing rhythm. Colohan is vicious in the tackle, and Manning is indomitable in the air, giving the Cougars what’s probably the nation’s best defensive midfield duo. The offense is more hit or miss than anything else, though they also haven’t been shutout since the loss to Denver in September. Rookie forward Ashley Hatch seems to be in the Carlee Payne Holmoe mold, a big, imposing striker who isn’t going to make major dents in the scoreboard but who opens up the game for others. Midfield wizard Niki Fernandes makes the attack go in many ways, but she, and the rest of her attacking compatriots, are prone to tempestuous swings in form from game-to-game. BYU’s already played three of the seeded teams in their quadrant of the bracket and beaten two, so there’s likely no fear factor there. They’ve got a puncher’s chance at a run to Cary, but I think it’s more likely they’ll be felled in the second weekend by their inconsistent offense.
Weber State lived up to expectations of grandeur in the preseason but only just, with the Wildcats needing to nip Portland State on penalties in the conference tournament final after finishing a tie for third in the league. It left the club uncomfortably close to missing the postseason after being expected to do great things returning almost all of last year’s starters. They came good in the end though, and the Wildcats will get a shot at glory against their much fancied neighbors in Provo on Friday night. Weber State boasted one of the Big Sky’s best attacks, with Mackenzie Harrison leading the way with nine goals to her name. The sophomore also led the club in shots, meaning she’ll likely be a marked woman on Friday, meaning attacks from the likes of Mackenzie Day and Stacy Bair, who combined for eleven goals despite not taking too many shots, will be important. As well the distribution of Chansi Crompton, one of the league’s top midfield aces who led the Wildcats with eight assists this season. Even if the Wildcats do take advantage of the few chances likely to come their way, they’ll have to stop BYU’s attack to stand a chance of an upset. Center-back Brecken Holbrook is one of the Big Sky’s premier defenders, but she has a hell of a task on her hands of corralling the physical Ashley Hatch to try and disrupt the BYU attack. Netminder Ryann Waldman was relatively anonymous in the league, but she also was the Big Sky Tournament MVP, showing she might be peaking at the right time this year. So are Weber State, who are unbeaten in five and have kept three straight clean sheets going into this one. The odds of them making it four in a row aren’t great. But then again, I’m sure some felt the same way before 2005.
Prediction – BYU 1 – 0 Weber State
Weber State Tournament Prediction – First Round
BYU Tournament Prediction – Second Round