‘I really had no idea we won’: BYU goalie comes up huge as Cougs make 1st NCAA final
Coach Jennifer Rockwood’s Cougars advance to the national championship game with a shootout win over Santa Clara in the College Cup on the defending champion Broncos’ home field
Her heart pounding and her voice long gone, Cassidy Smith wasn’t about to leave her spot in the front of the net until she was 100% sure she could.
That’s how focused BYU’s senior goalkeeper was during the shootout on Friday night in the College Cup in front of a crazed, frenzied crowd in Santa Clara, California.
But once Smith saw her teammates running toward her, she realized what had just happened, that Ellie Green’s well-struck shot clanging off the right goal post and bouncing harmlessly away meant BYU was on its way to the NCAA women’s soccer national championship for the first time in the 27-year history of the program.
And then Smith cried.
“I really had no idea we won. I will be honest,” said the Lone Peak High product. “I think I was locked in, in another zone, another universe.
“But there were instant tears when I saw the team running towards me, so it makes the celebration that much more exciting, when it is a surprise.”
Having edged the Broncos 3-2 in penalty kicks after neither team scored in regulation or two overtimes, BYU will meet No. 1 seed Florida State, which downed Rutgers in the first semifinal on Friday, at 6 p.m. MST Monday night for the national championship.
“What a very exciting and huge win for us,” said BYU coach Jennifer Rockwood. “It was an electric atmosphere, and a great college soccer game for fans to enjoy.”
For the defending national champion Broncos (15-6-2), who won last spring’s COVID-19-delayed national championship game over Florida State in a shootout, it was an excruciating way to lose in front of their home crowd, especially after BYU’s first two attempts were off-target or stopped by goalie Kylie Foutch.
“We congratulate BYU on the victory,” said SCU coach Jerry Smith. “It was a heckuva game out there. They played very tough. … We wish it could have been us, but it is great to have a West Coast Conference team back in the championship game.”
Indeed, the shootout didn’t start well for the No. 4 seed Cougars (18-4-1), as Mikayla Colohan’s shot hit the cross bar and dropped outside the line.
Then Jamie Shepherd’s shot was saved, and the Cougars were in deep trouble.
“Definitely not ideal,” said Rockwood. “I stood in my power stance. That’s all I could do.”
That, and believe that Smith would come up with a couple saves.
“It usually comes down to heart,” said Smith, who lost her voice but gamely addressed the media after the celebration subsided. “… These are the moments you dream about. We couldn’t have asked for a cooler environment to play in.”
After Sally Menti’s successful kick and Nicole Sweeney’s miss, Smith came up with a huge save on one of the best players in the country, All-American Kelsey Turnbow.
Brecken Mozingo, Bella Folino and Olivia Wade made successful kicks for the Cougars, and Izzy D’Aquila tied it 2-2 for Santa Clara.
Watching nervously, Colohan prayed that her teammates could rescue her from the opening miss, just as the three-time All-American has saved them on oh-so-many occasions throughout her brilliant career.
“Yeah, for sure. PKs are tough, especially after you have battled for that many minutes, end to end, and it is just a mind game,” Colohan said. “So, it is definitely nerve-wracking, and hard when your season is on the line, but it was super exciting when we won and we knew we were going to the national championship.”
Santa Clara’s nine-match winning streak in the NCAA Tournament was snapped, and BYU avenged a 1-0 loss to the Broncos in October that kept them from claiming the conference title outright.
“BYU is just an unbelievable offensive powerhouse,” said Santa Clara’s Smith who marveled that his squad kept a team averaging nearly four goals a game to no goals in two whole games. “They are by far the No. 1 offensive team in the country.”
The Cougars controlled most of regulation and the overtimes, getting 26 shots on goal to Santa Clara’s 13 and six corner kicks to SCU’s three. Both teams got eight shots on goal.
BYU hit the crossbar once and the right post once on shots, Makaylie Moore hitting the right post a few minutes into the match and Foutch getting a fingertip on a shot by Kendell Peterson that caromed off the crossbar.
“It was a tough game, for sure, back and forth,” Rockwood said. “Santa Clara took away what we like to do. We never did get any clean looks at the goal.”
The Cougars got stronger as the match wore on, while the Broncos seemed content to let it go to PKs. BYU was clearly the more aggressive team.
“I thought we were going to get (a goal) at the end there, but it goes to PKs and the girls did their jobs,” Rockwood said.
Smith finished with seven saves, while Mozingo and Cameron Tucker took five shots apiece. Petersen attempted four shots, while Colohan got three, but only one on goal.
Had Santa Clara won, the championship match would have been played on Sunday, but will now take place Monday because the NCAA is accommodating BYU’s religious tenet of not playing on Sundays.
“We are thankful to the NCAA for that,” Rockwood said. “It is a big ask and they are accommodating us.”
As for Florida State, the Seminoles are 21-1-2 and ranked No. 1 in the country and will play in their third national championship game in the last four years.
“They are phenomenal,” Rockwood said. “It will be a nice chance for us to play them, and to play a team that isn’t as familiar with us.”
And this time, the Cougars should have the home-crowd advantage.