When BYU women’s soccer (hereto after BYUWS) head coach Jennifer Rockwood saw the horde of media waiting after Tuesday’s practice, her response was immediate.
“Are you all here for me?”
Truth be told, the reporters were asking themselves the same thing. Not in a rolling-the-eyes kind of way, more of a how-‘bout-them-apples tone. This was emphasized later that day when football and basketball practices saw fewer reporters combined.
BYUWS was suddenly the big-ticket item. Never mind that it was battling A) football, B) basketball, C) Thanksgiving weekend and D) Jimmer and the Kings playing at Utah all at the same time. In spite of all that, BYUWS had become the headliner. A fad. A trend.
Hard to believe? Our BYUWS content (articles, photos, etc.) got more views last weekend than football or basketball.
Need more proof? Ask the renovated fans who did the opposite of hiding their newfound interest.
"I've actually paid attention to it a lot on Twitter," one player said. "I think a lot of people who aren't even fans of soccer have changed their perspective on it just by watching a few of our games."
Here are a few of a boat-load of samples:
When the people on the plane streamed the BYU Womens Soccer Playoff Game the whole flight>>>— Jacob Willardson (@jcwilla2) November 24, 2012
For the first time ever I’m tuning into a BYU women’s soccer game. Alright Cougs, entertain me— Peter Case (@spaffoo) November 24, 2012
I have learned more about soccer than I ever thought I would thanks to BYU women's soccer.— Jacob Fox (@FoxJacobfox1) November 24, 2012
Wow! I can't believe that my heart is racing from watching women's soccer. #BYU— Dan Hill (@RexKwanDan) November 24, 2012
The upswing in popularity wasn’t just a viral thing, either. Keeper Erica Owens said both she and her teammates were getting extra shout-outs on campus. The week after their Sweet 16 thriller over Marquette, professors were singling them out, inviting them to [figuratively] take a bow in class.
That kind of treatment can only come from a conscious effort to follow the team. It's not like BYUWS players are 6-foot-8 or 280 pounds.
Speaking of basketball and football, their struggles can't be dismissed as a contributing factor. Football suffered a fan-maddening loss to San Jose State. Men’s hoops was reeling from back-to-back contests to two of their few decent non-conference opponents. One BYUWS player admitted the stumbling of those programs played a role in her team's rise to popularity.
Even so, positive props are still due. With just one loss all season, BYUWS earned a coveted No. 1 seed — automatically triggering locals’ March Madness instincts. Each tournament win heightened the hype. The opponents became more and more brand-name. Auburn. Marquette. North Carolina.
North Carolina? Yeah, that North Carolina.
Also, these powerhouses were coming to Provo, giving fans the opportunity to see the story unfold. And come they did, so many in fact that standing-room only became commonplace.
And even though BYU was, technically, the favored team, they really weren’t. UNC was going for national championship No. 21. Ask yourself this question: were they really favored to lose?
Ironically, this (combined with BYUWS' title-less history) gave the Cougars the best possible status in any tournament: a heavyweight with underdog energy.
Unfortunately that wasn't quite enough against the immensely talented Tar Heels. Their immediate post-game comments were, however, repeatedly about the fans’ 1) manners and 2) enthusiasm.
“We can’t believe your fans," UNC head coach Anson Dorrance said. "We’re so used to Duke fans, and to come out here and experience your fans…to be treated this way by everyone, it was absolutely first-class.
Highly complimentary, but not a rarity when politely dismissing an opponent. Former Alta High standout Kealia Ohai, however, went one step further.
“They’re fans are unlike anywhere I’ve ever seen,” Ohai said. “Being able to play in front of those fans every game would be incredible. [BYU is] really lucky.”
Now that’s an eye-opening commentary. Sure, it’s a tribute to the fans. But for those fans to be noted for their passion for women’s soccer – when football is normally peaking and basketball still new and fun – is just as noteworthy.
“I think that’s why we became such a favorite among the fans here,” senior Cami Jensen said. “Just being able to represent BYU the manner that was what it needed to be. To be able to go so far, and be able to play so well and put BYU out there more and put the soccer program on a higher pedestal than it has been in the past.”
Higher, yes. But higher than football, basketball and Jimmer at the same time?
Let the record show that for nearly a month, it was so.