Despite Smaller Roster, BYU Embraces Tough WCLA Slate
by J. Jude Hazard | LaxMagazine.com
Senior attacker Brooke Smith says the Cougars are motivated by their 10th-place finish at nationals in 2012.
© Cecil Copeland
Sixth-ranked Brigham Young has overcome one of the most difficult US Lacrosse Women's Collegiate Lacrosse Associates (WCLA) Division I schedules and even its own expectations in an underdog season that isn't going to get any easier.
The Cougars (6-3), have faced six ranked teams this year, and its three losses to top-10 teams are by a combined four goals. Next up for BYU: No. 11 Colorado in Provo on Saturday in a Rocky Mountain Women's Lacrosse League conference battle.
Senior attacker Brooke Smith said she expected her last season at BYU to be more of a rebuilding year because the team lost several of players due to graduations and off-field commitments.
"Everyone as a whole has kind of stepped it up to a whole new level," she said. "Even if some of our star players are not on their best game, we still do really well."
Many of the students at BYU are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Mormon Church recently changed a policy to allow younger women to go on religious missions. Some women's lacrosse players left Provo for 18 months to serve as missionaries throughout the world.
The Cougars regularly field 12 starters and two substitutes from a trimmed-down roster of 17 players, according to coach Julie Smith (no relation to Brooke), who calls the offensive plays from the sidelines.
"Our coach has done a really good job of talking to us about slowing the game down and helping us realize that when we do slow the game down, the chances that are created are more likely to result in goals," Brooke Smith said. "She tends to set the pace of the game for offense."
Substituting players can be a delicate balance for BYU, especially in crucial weekend tournaments in which top club teams play up to four games in two days.
"All of my players, except for two of my low defenders and two of my low attack players, can play any position on the field I need them to," Julie Smith said. "That well-roundedness that my players are showing this year, out of necessity because of the size of our team, has been a great strength to them."
Junior midfielder Jordan Haws said BYU was left with a bitter taste last year after being bumped from nationals and finishing in 10th place. The team talked about this season on the ride home from Colorado Springs last May.
"We weren't happy with the way that it ended. We felt frustrated that we hadn't reached our potential," she said. "We decided then and there that this season was going to be different. We started then, working out all summer and holding each other accountable."
When defending WCLA Division I champion UC Davis announced the cancellation of its season, Brigham Young agreed to take on its games in the A-Town Throwdown, an annual event March 29-30 hosted by Georgia. The Cougars hadn't previously planned on attending the tournament, according to Julie Smith.
The addition of the UC Davis games gives BYU the fourth-strongest schedule in the nation, according to LaxPower.com. Rival Colorado has the second-toughest schedule.
"I'm so proud of them. They just come out to practice every day and they want to work, and I'm so impressed with how much they soak up any bit of improvement you can give them," Julie Smith said. "It's important to have wins, but more important is playing tough teams and preparing yourself for strong competition."