By Ronell Hugh
The BYU women”s soccer season was filled with ups and downs.
The 16-7-3 Cougars didn”t win the most games in school history during the season. They never beat rival Utah in 2003. They weren”t even ranked at then end of the regular season. But they did make it farther than any previous BYU team.
Success fell to the BYU women”s soccer team this season as it created history by rolling into the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
The Cougars ended their conference play with a 6-3-0 record with tough competition from the University of Utah Utes and a loss to San Diego State University Aztecs.
“One of our goals is to win the conference regular season and the conference tournament, so we fell a little short of that [this season],” said head coach Jennifer Rockwood. “Obviously that was disappointing.”
The conference season started with a convincing 5-1 win over New Mexico on Oct. 9 and a 4-0 win over Air Force on Oct. 11 at South Stadium in Provo.
The Cougars” first conference loss came against the Aztecs in San Diego on Oct. 16 in a 1-0 loss. San Diego scored and then sat back on its lead, playing strong defense.
BYU experienced two losses to Utah; suffering defeats in its final regular conference game and in the final of the Mountain West Conference Tournament.
“We”ve had a lot of success against the University of Utah,” Rockwood said. “Both games we played very well, had our opportunities to win and weren”t able to finish some of those good opportunities.”
The losses against the Utes have plagued the team, Rockwood said.
During the season, the team has learned that possession does not mean as much, but all that matters at the end of the game is the score, she said.
BYU opened non-conference play against No. 17 Michigan. The game went into double overtime, but ended in a 0-0 draw.
“I think it is important that if you want to become one of the better teams, you have to go out and play them,” Rockwood said. “You have to see where you match up.”
The Cougars met that challenge by lining up matches with five ranked opponents, including Michigan.
They achieved wins over ranked opponents Tennessee, Kentucky and USC.
“The only way you can test yourself and see what your potential might be is to go out and play some of these established programs,” Rockwood said.
The team has benefited immensely over the past several seasons from scheduling top ranked opponents, she said.
“We had some definite ups and downs this season,” Rockwood said.
The Cougars ended the season with a 12-4-2 record against non-conference opponents.
After losing the regular conference season and conference tournament, the Cougars waited to see if they would get a bid for NCAA Tournament.
BYU received a first round bid to the tournament and were pit against No. 10 Colorado.
“The tournament is always interesting because you never know what kind of draw is going to happen because it”s a regionally based tournament,” Rockwood said.
In the west, most ranked opponents are forced to play each other in the first round, she said.
The Cougars came into the tournament knowing that the Buffaloes had been very successful, but that did not put any doubt in the minds of the BYU squad due to the success they have had against ranked opponents, Rockwood said.
“We were just excited to be there, we didn”t care who we were playing,” she said.
The Cougars jumped past the first and second round by knocking off Colorado and Idaho State, both in 2-0 wins.
BYU reached the Sweet 16, and battled hard against talented Villanova squad.
The team came out on top after going through regulation and two overtimes in a penalty-kick shootout.
Junior goalie Mandy Gott came up big as she read Kelly Breslin”s shot and made a crucial save that gave BYU a 5-3 win in penalties.
The Cougars ended their season by making history: the first BYU team to make the Elite Eight.
BYU fell to Connecticut in a 3-1 loss, but the memories of making it farther than no Cougar has gone before will always remain.
“I said from the very beginning of this season that I believed in the potential of this team, and we had a special group of young women,” Rockwood said.