BYU women’s soccer falls short to Stanford in College Cup semifinal 2-0

No.1-seeded BYU’s run in the NCAA tournament came to a close Friday night, bowing out in the semifinal 2-0 to Stanford. 

Revenge was the theme of the night, with Clemson failing to exact it on ACC rival Florida State in the first semifinal.

However, Stanford avenged its second-round loss last season to BYU, preventing the Cougars from entering a rematch of the 2021 National Championship against the Seminoles. 

The Cardinal jumped out to an early lead with a quick punch just 78 seconds into the match, and doubled its advantage just two minutes later, giving it a large enough lead to last the remaining 86 minutes.

Despite holding Stanford to its lowest shot total since 2013, the early two-goal deficit was too much to overcome for BYU, who had given up a goal in the first two minutes in two of its last four matches going into Friday’s contest.

“When you give up a goal in the first two minutes and another one in the first 10, that’s tough,” said BYU head coach Jennifer Rockwood. 

“But we’ve been there before, and I don’t think that there was any time where these leaders and the rest of the team didn’t believe that we could come back.”

Stanford’s Jasmine Aikey found a wide open Allie Montoya at the top of the box, who lifted a shot to the top left corner over a reaching Lynette Hernaez to stun the Cougars for the first goal.  

The second came from Maya Doms, who ripped a screamer from 20+ yards out, finding the top corner to double the lead. 

With last week’s Elite 8, 4-goal comeback win against North Carolina fresh on their minds, the Cougars clawed back into the game and dominated possession throughout the first half. 

“The momentum that we had for most of the first half and the entire second half was incredibly impressive, some of the best soccer we’ve played, against one of the best teams in the country,” said Rockwood.

Allie Fryer created a chance from nothing in the 22nd minute, rattling the outside post at a tight angle. Bella Folino had a good look with a header two minutes later, but the shot sailed wide and the Cougars remained without a shot on goal. 

Then, the most controversial moment of the night came in the final minutes of the first half.

Erin Bailey ripped a shot from inside the box which was flicked on in front by Ellie Walbruch into the back of the net. The flag went up for offside, denying BYU of the goal.

For those with the benefit of a video replay, Walbruch was well onside and the goal should have counted.

Unfortunately for the Cougars, the referees were the only people at WakeMed Park without access to a review, since Video Assistant Referee (VAR) does not exist at the NCAA level, at least for offsides.

“Unfortunately, we thought we had one in the first half that would have made a big difference in the second half in how they would have had to play,” Rockwood said. 

With the two-goal lead in hand, the Cardinal closed in and waited back for the entirety of the second half, keeping the Cougars from having a consistent threat on goal.

“They boxed it in a little bit, which is what you do when you’re up a couple of goals,” Rockwood said. 

Ellie Boren nearly cut the deficit in half in the 57th minute, striking the bar from long range. The play was reviewed by the referee and the ball was shown to not cross the line off the rebound, and no goal was given. 

With the season winding to a close, BYU continued to dominate possession and push the field, but failed to create any meaningful shots on target.

By the end of the night, BYU led Stanford 20-3 in shots, but finished equal in attempts on target with three. 

“We scored 79 goals this year. One tonight would have helped, but we’re a tremendous attacking team,” Rockwood said. 

“Stanford’s only given up 10 goals all year. They close very well in the attacking third. They just had a big presence. We kept coming after them and they kept getting in the way.”

Yet another memory-filled, record-setting season comes to a heartbreaking close just shy of a title. 

Jamie Shepherd, one of nine seniors on the squad who have made two College Cup appearances, reflected on the last 90 minutes of her BYU career.

“Definitely a hard loss, and hard to walk off the field,” Shepherd said. Tonight marked her 108th appearance for BYU, a program record. 

“I’m so beyond proud of this team, we gave it our all.”

For Rockwood, this year’s team, like many others she’s coached in her 29 years running the program, has a lot to hang their hats on despite falling short of the ultimate goal. 

“They wanted to do something that a BYU team hasn’t done, and that was win a national championship,” she said. 

“We were a little unfortunate tonight, but they can hold their heads high, because they played a really great game.”

Looking ahead to the 2024 season, the second in the Big 12 Conference, Rockwood and her staff will go back to the drawing board in plans of finding the missing piece to bring home BYU’s first women’s soccer national title. 

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