During the 2012 women’s soccer season, the Utah State defense had been tough to crack. The Aggies had only allowed 11 goals all year — in 11 separate games.
But they hadn’t played at South Field either.
No. 2-ranked BYU kicked off the 2012 NCAA Women’s College Cup in Provo Saturday afternoon by putting in a pair of goals and holding off Utah State’s rally to get the 2-1 victory.
“It was a huge win for us,” said Cougar head coach Jennifer Rockwood. “We drew a really tough first-round opponent who had a great season, so we knew it would be a battle. Our girls battled through and we were able to move the ball. We did what we needed to do today.”
BYU, who defeated USU 1-0 in Logan on Sept. 20, controlled possession early in the game and created a number of looks. It wasn’t until the 30th minute, however, that the Cougars were able to put the ball in the back of the net.
Fittingly, the opening goal came off a good entry pass from sophomore forward Jaiden Thornock that skipped through to senior forward Jessica Ringwood in the middle of the Aggie penalty box.
Ringwood, who tied for the team lead with eight goals during the regular season, calmly collected the ball and buried it.
“We had a lot of chances in the first half,” Ringwood said. “It was a great pass in especially in slick conditions. I just put it on frame and when you do that anything can happen.”
BYU doubled the advantage 10 minutes later on another scramble play in the box.
Cougar freshman forward Marissa Nimmer got knocked to the ground after making a pass but regained her feet and followed the action toward the USU goal.
When the ball bounced from Ringwood to sophomore forward Kayla Varner and then out, Nimmer was in the perfect place and she slid it into the goal.
“Nimmer has gradually throughout the season been able to build and build,” Rockwood said. “It’s not just about your starter; it’s about your entire team. You need people who can come off the bench and give you a spark. Nimmer is getting more and more confidence and we’ve been able to put her out there and give her more opportunities. Her goal today was brilliant.”
Although the Aggie defense rightly got a lot of attention, Utah State has the ability to score.
The visitors proved that early in the second half when a free kick by Aggie sophomore defender Taryn Rose put the ball into the box. After bouncing around and nearly being grabbed by Cougar sophomore keeper Erica Owens, USU junior defender Jackie Tillotson chipped it in.
“I remember ball bounced around everywhere,” Tillotson said. “The goalie touched it, it hit the girl and I just kicked it in. I was in the right place at the right time.”
Rockwood said that goal changed the direction of the game.
“When you have a two-goal lead and you give up a goal, obviously the momentum shifts a little bit,” she said. “I think you could see that. I think the nerves set in and we struggled for a little while to get the ball under control, but the girls continued to battle and I thought we did a great job.”
Aggie head coach Heather Cairns credited her team for coming out strong and making something happen.
“It gave us hope and breathed a little life into our team,” she said. “We knew we had to come out in that second half, so we had to gamble and give it everything we had to equalize it.”
BYU still had the edge but at that point the margin of error had been significantly diminished.
“It was really intense,” Ringwood said. “When it gets that heated like that, it’s not easy to keep our heads in it and stay composed. I think everyone did a great job of not letting their emotions get carried away.”
The Cougar offense kept firing but wasn’t able to put much on frame.
More importantly, the BYU defense refused to give ground and made it tough for the Utah State offense to find holes.
The one exception came with under 10 minutes to play when Aggie junior midfielder Kendra Pemberton found herself unmarked at the top of the Cougar penalty box. Owens watched as Pemberton stepped and fired.
“It’s always a very surreal moment,” Owens explained. “I sit there and time seems to slow down. I think about all the pressure that is on my shoulders. I tell myself to do the absolute best that I can to not let my teammates down.”
As has been the case so often this year, Owens was equal to the task. She lept and pushed the shot up over the bar, preserving the BYU lead.
That was the last good opportunity Utah State was able to get as the Cougars managed to kill the clock and earn the win.
“I couldn’t be prouder of my girls today,” Cairns said. “They played a fantastic game all around. I was really proud of the way we regrouped at half and the adjustments that we made. We won that second half, but unfortunately we lost that first half. That did us in but I was so proud of how we fought against the No. 2 team in the country.”
The game had been originally scheduled for Friday evening but it was postponed due to the snowstorm. It required a lot of effort to get the field ready for the game.
“There was a lot that went into getting this game off,” Rockwood said. “The grounds crew and we had whole athletic department here. My arms are really sore from shoveling. We didn’t want to wait another day. I thought the field held up and it wasn’t a factor in the game.”
With the victory, BYU will host the next two rounds of the tournament, starting on Nov. 15.
The Cougars will look to continue their run when they take on Auburn in the second round with the winner facing either Marquette or Princeton on Nov. 17.
All games will take place at South Field in Provo. Times for the next round have yet to be announced.
Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or email@example.com. He can also be followed on Twitter at @JaredrLloyd.