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‘We will be ready for it’: Why BYU is a big underdog in College Cup final vs. Florida State

After eliminating West Coast Conference foe Santa Clara in penalty kicks, fourth-seeded Cougars meet the overall No. 1 seed Florida State in Monday’s championship match on ESPNU

BYU goalkeeper Cassidy Smith (32) celebrates after the Cougars beat Santa Clara 3-2 in a penalty kick shootout during the NCAA women’s soccer tournament semifinals.
BYU goalkeeper Cassidy Smith (32) celebrates after the Cougars beat Santa Clara 3-2 in a penalty kick shootout during the NCAA women’s soccer tournament semifinals at Stevens Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021. The Cougars advanced to the national championship game, where they’ll face Florida State. 
BYU photo

The good news for the BYU women’s soccer team is that the Cougars won’t be facing a familiar opponent in the championship match of the College Cup on Monday night.

The bad news is that BYU, a No. 4 seed, will face the best team in the country this season, the No. 1-ranked and overall top seed Florida State Seminoles.

“I think it is always exciting when you see a different team, but Florida State is the No. 1 team in the country,” BYU coach Jennifer Rockwood told the BYU Sports Network immediately after the Cougars defeated Santa Clara in penalties in a semifinal match Friday night to advance. “They are phenomenal, and they like to keep the ball, and they move the ball really well.”

First kick is at 6 p.m. MST Monday at Stevens Stadium in Santa Clara, California, the same site where BYU held off the Broncos and their sellout crowd 3-2 in the shootout after neither team scored through 110 minutes.

“It will be nice for us to have a chance to see someone new, and come back on this field,” Rockwood said. “I felt like we played really well tonight against a really tough home crowd for Santa Clara.”

The Cougars (18-4-1), in the first championship match in the 27-year history of their program, will be decided underdogs against the Seminoles (21-1-2), who advanced with a 1-0 win over Rutgers.

BYU should have a home-crowd advantage, as presumably the same large contingent who watched it out-shoot Santa Clara 26-13 will return and what Broncos fans decide to come back to the stadium after a rough loss will pull for their West Coast Conference mates.

“Yeah, it was super fun,” BYU star Makayla Colohan said of the atmosphere Friday night. “It made it difficult to hear each other on the field. But I think any college soccer player wants a packed stadium every game, and it is good for the sport, and we love to see the turnout, and it is even funner when you get the win on their home field.”

Colohan, who was bottled up by Santa Clara’s defense and then hit the crossbar on her attempt in the shootout, figures to be the focus of FSU’s stellar defense Monday, but she said her teammates will pick up the slack if they have to, like they have throughout the tournament.

“I think our motto the whole season has been, ‘play a full 90,’” Colohan said. “And today that was 110 (minutes). We just reminded ourselves to just stay in it, not get down, not get too high, not get too low. Sometimes you get a little bit unlucky and it is hard when a team plays as well defensively as Santa Clara does. So it made it difficult but we got the result and that is all that matters.”

The championship match was moved from Sunday to Monday when BYU advanced because the Cougars do not play on Sundays for religious reasons. While thanking the NCAA several times Friday night for making the accommodation, Rockwood said BYU could use the extra day of rest after a hard, physical test against Santa Clara.

“It is all about recovery right now,” she said. “We are certainly grateful that the NCAA was willing to move the game for us so that we could participate on Monday. I know that is a big ask for them to move the event. But both teams will have a couple days to recover. That’s obviously very important. We had a very physical game.”

Florida State is making its second-straight national championship appearance, having lost on penalties to Santa Clara last spring (the 2020 tournament was moved to 2021, due to COVID-19). Legendary coach Mark Krikorian, who surpassed 300 career coaching wins this season, has won two national titles, the last one in 2018.

Making its 12th College Cup appearance, the Seminoles got a goal from Jaelin Howell to defeat Rutgers. Goalkeeper Cristina Roque made four big saves to give the ACC team its 13th shutout.

“Our standard is always the national championship, so making it back is always special to us and we are going to go out and give it our best,” Howell said.

It will be the first-ever meeting on the pitch between BYU and Florida State.

“Again, I am so proud of our staff, and our players, and how far we’ve come this year and that we have made it a reality to get to the national championship game,” Rockwood said. “We certainly have our hands full with a really talented and well-coached Florida State team. But you know, that is all you can ask for is an opportunity to play against the very best on the biggest stage in college soccer. We will be ready for it.”