“You always want to be the team that everyone is gunning for” — BYU women’s soccer ready to strike back following first-ever College Cup berth
There’s a feeling of stoke in the air down at South Field.
Such buzz is clearly merited— BYU women’s soccer is the defending national runner-up, was ranked No. 3 in the preseason coaches poll and returns a stacked existing core from last year’s College Cup squad.
Now, head coach Jen Rockwood’s job will be to keep the good times rolling.
“Everyone’s eager and excited to see what we can put together for this fall, and obviously coming off of an amazing season there are a lot of fun expectations,” Rockwood said. “Last year was the best season we’ve ever had, but we have a lot of players back and a lot of experience so we’re ready to get after it. The girls worked really hard over the summer and came to our preseason camp completely fit and ready to go.”
A year ago, BYU scored more goals (77) than anyone in the country. With Mikayla Colohan and Cam Tucker graduated and out of the picture, Rockwood will rely on All-WCC selections Brecken Mozingo and Bella Folino to score up top along with another all-conference talent in Jamie Shepherd to slide into Colohan’s former midfield role.
“We plan on running the same system as last year and hope to fine-tune and even get better at it,” Rockwood said. “It’ll be hard to replace the goals that Mikayla and Cam scored.. but collectively we have the players to do it. Our experience will allow us to attack the same way that we did last year.”
Rockwood has long taken pride in strength and conditioning, citing the need for her players to be “extremely fit” in order to effectively carry out BYU’s high-octane offensive scheme. This year, Rockwood’s girls understood the assignment, passing their fitness tests far in advance of fall camp which allowed the team to jump ahead of its training schedule.
“Here at BYU we play a crazy style of soccer.. we’re going to score a lot of goals this year,” Shepherd said. “We like to outrun the defense and score a lot of goals, we’re a high-pressing team and we’ve got great speed all over the field. We prepared all summer working and conditioning, so it really prepares us to come into fall camp and play how we like to play.”
Life without Colohan, Tucker and starting goalie Cassidy Smith began near-flawlessly in the spring, as the Cougars went undefeated in their 10-game exhibition slate and outscored opponents by a 42-5 margin— good for a higher average per game than the fall. BYU’s spring roster also included seven new freshmen additions who graduated early in order to join the team sooner, giving Rockwood’s squad another advantage of more time to mesh together as a new roster against actual opponents.
“This team is unique in that our young freshmen have already played in 10 games. That typically doesn’t happen,” Rockwood said. “We’re already in a good place where everyone is familiar and comfortable with each other, the expectation has been set and the goals are high.”
Taking charge of the new crop of young freshmen are the roster’s experienced veterans, including juniors Shepherd and Folino, both in their fourth and fifth years in the program, respectively. BYU returns six players who made at least 10 starts last season along with other key pieces in Rachel McCarthy, Ellie Maughan and Laveni and Daviana Vaka.
“We’ve got some shoes to fill but we’re excited to step up and be those leaders now,” Shepherd said. “We’re ready to do something that’s never been done here at BYU, and now we’re one step closer.”
Veteran leadership has long been the keystone for BYU’s culture under Rockwood. While much of the team has remained the same from 2021, these early practices have been crucial in further developing the potential and capability of the roster, especially when given opportunities to face off against each other.
“We’re our biggest competition,” Folino said. “Our practices are harder than the games, which is awesome.. knowing how good we are, we’re excited to see how much farther we can get this year.”
All eyes will be on BYU after playing on college soccer’s biggest stage a year ago. Rockwood and company are used to having a target on their backs, but such attention will be even more intense in 2022, as now the Cougars have the opportunity to prove their worth as a national force heading into the Big 12 and beyond.
“With this being our last year in the WCC, we want to go out with the win,” Rockwood said. “After our experience last year, the goal is to go back to the College Cup and win a championship. You always want to be the team that everyone is gunning for, and we’re used to being in that situation. We feel like we get everybody’s best effort and that’s what we want, we want to play the best and we want to beat them.”