There’s something special about the BYU women’s soccer team when the players step out onto the field. It feels like the girls have played together before. That’s because many of them have.
Six BYU women’s soccer players grew up playing together on Utah’s Sparta club soccer team. Bizzy Phillips, Stephanie Ringwood and Madie Lyons are on this year’s roster. Rachel Bingham, Alyssa Jefferson and Shaylyn Orr are currently serving missions, but will return to the team afterwards. Jocelyn Loomis also played for Sparta with the other girls when she was younger while Nadia Gomes traveled with the Sparta team to play in tournaments for two years before coming to BYU.
BYU head coach Jennifer Rockwood first saw this Sparta team when the girls came to the summer BYU soccer camp as 10 or 11 year olds and was impressed. She said the girls were skilled technically, comfortable with the ball at their feet and had a good knowledge of the game at a young age.
Rockwood followed their youth careers and watched them play at tournaments as they grew up. She said she was originally uncomfortable recruiting so many players from the same club team. Rockwood traveled more than ever recruiting that year but ended up coming back to recruit Utah kids.
“It just happened, that class was a special class,” Rockwood said. “And they’ve proven their worth since they’ve been here.”
Bizzy Phillips’ father, Greg Phillips, became a Sparta assistant coach when the girls were 14 and has watched the girls develop skills over the years. He said the girls have always wanted to play soccer at BYU.
Greg Philips said he remembers the Sparta girls jumping the fence and rushing the field when BYU beat Marquette in the Sweet 16 in 2012. BYU played North Carolina in the Elite 8 the following week, but the Sparta team was at a soccer tournament in San Diego. The team went to a sports bar to watch the game and by the end of the game, the entire place had joined them in cheering on the Cougars.
Teammates and rivals
Five Sparta girls and three other BYU teammates played with or against each other in high school. Michele Murphy Vasconcelos and Taylor Campbell Isom played for Alta High School along with Bizzy Phillips, Orr and Lyons. Ringwood, Gomes and Loomis played for Alta’s rival, Brighton High School.
BYU has recruited more than two dozen Alta and Brighton players over the years. Rockwood said this area of the valley seems to have good players and the high schools are dominant.
Switching from being club teammates to high school rivals was a mind game.
“It’s such a headache on the field because you know how they play and you know their strengths and their weaknesses and they know yours,” Lyons said.
Lyons said they had to put aside their knowledge of each other’s play on the field. But the girls were back to being best friends again following the rivalry games.
A special friendship
Bizzy Philips and Vasconcelos admit they have a special bond. The girls became best friends when Phillips was a sophomore and Vasconcelos a senior. They had a tradition of eating a double scoop of Baskin Robbins ice cream the night before every game.
Greg Phillips said Vasconcelos took his daughter under her wing and knew she would be a talented player. Together, they helped each other set records at Alta High School.
Phillips currently holds the Alta girls’ soccer record for career assists with 60, many of which led to goals scored by Vasconcelos. Vasconcelos scored 37 of her 48 career goals her senior year, the most in a single season of any Alta girls’ soccer player. Phillips is also in third place for career goals with 59.
BYU team chemistry
The girls recognize the rare opportunity it is for them to play together at the collegiate level. Phillips said she couldn’t be happier surrounded by so many friends. Lyons said she feels blessed to be a part of it.
“Not a lot of people say that they have lifetime teammates starting at age 7 to college, like our whole lifetime,” Lyons said.
Vasconcelos said the team connects so well on the field because they are so close off the field. Team chemistry is a contributing factor to BYU’s success this year, going 10-1-1.
“We had a good chemistry last year, but I think it’s even tighter than it’s been in years past,” Rockwood said. “That always adds to how well we play and how well we combine on the field is that chemistry.
The various teammate connections also make watching the games fun for the parents because they go so far back.
“I see Burt Ringwood (Stephanie’s dad) and I’m just like, ‘Come here, Dad,’” Phillips said.
The six former Sparta players will be reunited as Cougars when Bingham, Jefferson and Orr return from their missions.
“Even though they haven’t played soccer and they’ll feel like they’re a little bit behind, I feel like our chemistry will pick right back up,” Lyons said.