Over 45,000 people have seen the BYU women’s soccer team play this season as it has played its way to a 17-1-1 record and a No. 5 national ranking.
Those 45,000 people might tell you the Cougars not only sit atop the West Coast Conference standings, but they also sit atop WCC leader boards for attendance, shots, goals, goals per game, assists, assists per game and fewest goals allowed.
“We’re all just work horses,” Carlee Payne Holmoe said about the team’s success. “Every day at practice, everyone’s working hard. During games, everyone’s working hard. We just know that if we want to win games, we have to work harder than every team we play.”
BYU Head Coach Jennifer Rockwood said while the team works hard, team members also know when and how to have fun.
“They’re extremely competitive and hard-working, yet we have a lot of fun,” Rockwood said. “There’s a time and a place to work hard, but there’s also a time and a place to have a lot of fun, and I think this group knows when each is appropriate.”
Rockwood also attributed much of the Cougars’ success to the team’s senior class.
“We have a tremendous senior class this year and I think that’s kind of been the key through a lot,” Rockwood said. “We’ve had some really high points over their four years — we’ve won a lot of games and had a lot of success, but we’ve also had some huge disappointments. This group has been through all those emotions together, and I think they’ve been the key to keeping everything together.”
BYU is known for its high intensity style of play, as well as its suffocating defense, which is one of the best in the nation.
“We’re a very high pressure team, and I think a lot of teams are scared to play us because they know they won’t have time to dribble because they’re going to have pressure right on them,” Holmoe said. “That’s really one of our strengths, we just come out with a lot of fire and passion.”
Holmoe talked about the disappointing end to the 2011 season, when the Cougars failed to make the NCAA tournament, and the motivation it gave the team coming into this season.
“Last season didn’t end up how we wanted it to … so we worked really hard this spring and we just came in this season knowing that we have to work for everything we want. It’s not going to just go our way,” Holmoe said. “I don’t think anyone expected that we would have this good of a season. I think everyone knew we could, we just weren’t expecting to go this far and have this many wins.”
While the Cougars aim to avenge last season’s lackluster ending, Rockwood said this season is about much more than soccer.
“We wanted to take a look at the big picture — why BYU has athletics and how we can represent BYU and the LDS Church,” Rockwood said. “We talked to the girls about how this is our mission and this is how we can be a missionary. And in order to do that, we have to be really good or else no one cares about you. So, we don’t have a name tag, but we have the name on our jersey. We don’t go knocking on doors, but we are on TV.”
“People that maybe don’t know anything about BYU can see us on TV and see and hear that we’re doing well and we want people to know that we’re different because we are very different than all the other teams in the country,” she added. “We’re unique. We want to be our best so people recognize who we are and what we stand for and we’re different, and we take that pretty seriously.”
In addition to playing to represent BYU and the Church, Rockwood said team members also play for each other.
“The girls are good friends off the field. They care for each other and they want each other to be successful and happy,” Rockwood said. “They want to help each other and be supportive of one another, so I think that chemistry is very important. It’s always been important — how we act on and off the field are equally important.”
With the season winding down — the Cougars play their final regular season games this weekend — Rockwood said the team is poised to win a conference championship and go as deep in the NCAA tournament as possible.
“We know right now that it is important to take it one game at a time,” Rockwood said. “We talk to the girls about the big picture and what we’re playing for, but we don’t talk to the girls about opponents past the first game. … Our focus is doing everything we can to win a conference championship in one of the toughest soccer conferences in the country and just trying to prepare for whatever opponents comes up.”