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Defiant defense: Rachel Bingham Lyman, Alyssa Jefferson helping lead BYU’s best soccer backline since 2012

Rachel Bingham Lyman is a centerpiece to a BYU defensive unit that has proven very stingy on the season and could provide for another deep run in the postseason.

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Jaren Wilkey/BYU

PROVO — BYU soccer senior defenders Rachel Bingham-Lyman and Alyssa Jefferson have been playing together since they were both 12 years old, and it shows. The two have deftly anchored a Cougars defense that has proven to be one of the program’s best ever, even rivaling the 2012 version led by All-American Lindsi Lisonbee Cutshall.

That 2012 season saw the Cougars reach new heights, advancing to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament where they narrowly fell 2-1 to eventual champion North Carolina in double overtime. Cougar coaches and players are hoping for similar or even better results this season, armed with a stingy defense that has allowed just six goals through 15 matches played this season in helping craft an impressive 14-0-1 start and No. 5 national ranking.

“That 2012 defense was unreal, but we’re working as hard as possible to be the best we can this year,” Lyman said. “So far it’s gone great, and a lot of it is our experience and how well we work together. We just read each other so well and understand what each is doing out there on the field.”

Lyman has been playing alongside Jefferson for quite a while, building a chemistry and trust that has fit nicely with the play of fellow senior defender Danika Serassio and junior defender Josie Guinn. All four have at least two years starting experience together, helping form a truly formidable backline.

As for Lyman and Jefferson, their careers have progressed in a remarkably similar fashion.

Both entered the program in 2014 before electing to serve missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with Jefferson spending 18 months in El Salvador and Lyman serving the same period of time in Guatemala.

“I loved my mission so much and I really do believe it’s helped me become a better player, along with becoming a better person,” Lyman said. “I’m obviously religious, and I believe the Lord blesses those who serve him. I’ve felt a lot of blessings since I’ve been home.”

Coming off mission service is rarely easy, and was a hurdle for Lyman. But after redshirting in 2016, the Spanish Fork product rose to become a defensive starter early during the 2017 season and has maintained a prominent role ever since.

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BYU’s Alyssa Jefferson during game against Utah Sept. 8, 2017, on South Field, BYU, Provo, Utah.

Jaren Wilkey/BYU

“She probably could have played the season when she got back, but we chose to redshirt her because we already had a lot of good players on that 2016 team,” said BYU coach Jennifer Rockwood. “And turns out that was a great decision on our part because now we have her for this season.”

Unlike a lot of top defenders, Lyman doesn’t possess an imposing frame, such as Lisonbee Cutshall, who stood in at 5 foot10, but uses her quick and mobile 5-3 frame in a highly effective manner.

“Her speed, and her ability to go forward, and her feistiness — she can just run forever,” Rockwood said. “She’s not your typical defender ... but she’s so quick and so light that she doesn’t end up having to tackle often because most of the time forwards are chasing her down instead of the other way around with how she attacks from the backline.”

Lyman’s play warranted All-West Coast Conference second-team honors, as did Jefferson, with both looking to at least equal the same honor this year.

But both Lyman and Rockwood are quick to heap praise on the play of Serassio and Guinn, along with goalkeeper Sabrina Davis, among others.

“A big factor of us being good defensively is because of our midfield and our forwards,” Lyman said. “They possess the ball so well and they take so much pressure off us — it really takes everyone and we’re getting great play from each position.”

Rockwood agrees with Lyman’s assessment, stating a key strength with this year’s team, compared with the great BYU teams of 2012 and 2016, is the overall play of each position group.

“This year is kind of combining the best of our 2012 defense and the best of our 2016 attack,” Rockwood said. “Things are working out pretty well for us so far and we just have to stay consistent in what we’re doing.”

BYU resumes play Saturday against San Diego. WCC play will wrap up on Nov. 9 with the team hoping for another high seed in the NCAA Tournament and a subsequent deep run.

“We’re so excited with how everything has come together, but we just need to keep working to get better,” Lyman said. “Obviously we want to go all the way and we’re confident with what we’re doing and hopefully we can keep focusing on just taking one game at a time and then see where it goes from there.”