BYU senior midfielder Niki Fernandes may not have found the back of the net for the Blue women’s soccer team in Wednesday night’s Blue/White scrimmage at South Field.
Her squad even ended up on the short end of the 1-0 score -- but she felt like a winner anyway.
That’s because up until a week before fall practice began, she didn’t know if she would be granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA.
“For the last seven months, I’ve been in limbo,” Fernandes said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen, but I didn’t expect to come back. Now I’m healthy and strong. This will be a unique season. I hope to just enjoy it.”
Cougar head coach Jennifer Rockwood said having Fernandes back on the team makes a huge difference.
“All of us were surprised,” Rockwood said. “We didn’t anticipate her coming back but we went through the process. We were thrilled when we heard. She’s been through a lot of tough things but she played her best soccer in spring and so she adds a lot.”
Fernandes and the rest of the No. 23-ranked BYU women’s soccer team got a chance to battle in a more formal setting as hundreds of fans showed up for a preview of the upcoming season.
“We didn’t know how many people would show up but our fans are so great,” Fernandes said. “We played a little frustrated at the beginning but we picked it up and got a little better each period.”
Rockwood said she saw a lot of good things from her girls during the three, 25-minute frames.
“I think we’re pretty deep and versatile,” she said. “We have a lot of players who can play different positions. I think we have a little more speed and athleticism and that was pretty obvious tonight.”
The biggest question mark for the Cougars is between the pipes as they need to find a reliable goalkeeper. Both senior Katherine Snyder and freshman Hannah Clark made a number of nice plays throughout the contest.
“Both of our goalkeepers have trained well and both know they have a huge opportunity in front of them,” Rockwood said. “We’re going to rely on them a lot. Both of them did a great job tonight and I’m pleased with what I saw.”
The only goal of the evening came on a perfectly-timed run by White sophomore midfielder Elena Medeiros toward the near post, who took an excellent pass from freshman forward Nadia Gomes and buried it from six yards out.
The offenses created a number of other decent scoring opportunities but the defenses and keepers always found ways to keep the ball out of the net.
“At the beginning of the game, Rockwood said she wanted us to score a lot but to not score a lot,” Fernandes said. “But both sides had their defense play well. They had good organization and stayed together. Still, it’s unfortunate that we only scored one goal.”
There is the other perspective, however. The forwards and midfielders have to be able to finish those opportunities when they get them but Rockwood said the early focus has been defense.
“They were solid and the offenses really didn’t have too many good looks,” Rockwood said. “We haven’t really addressed forwards and runs so far.”
BYU now moves on to play it’s second scrimmage, this time squaring off against former Cougars in the Alumni contest on Friday night at 7 p.m.
The season-opener will be on Aug. 22 when BYU heads on the road to play CS Fullerton.