As the No. 6-ranked BYU women's soccer team stepped onto the perfectly-clipped grass at South Field for its first game in 2013 Saturday night, the Cougars had to deal with more than just the Haitian women's national team.
There were also the lingering shadows of the phenomenal 2012 BYU squad.
How would the Cougars handle the pressure of trying to follow up last year's success?
If the 5-0 victory over the visiting Haitians is any indication, BYU will be just fine with having extra expectations.
"The big thing for us last year was to handle the pressure and expectations," said Cougar head coach Jennifer Rockwood. "We have great returning players who were involved in that run. We graduated some great players but we’re very positive about this team. The expectations are just as high."
BYU put this year's talent on display in front of nearly 2,000 fans as the Cougars controlled much of the game.
In the first half alone, BYU peppered the Haiti goal with 17 shots compared to just eight for the visitors.
With that type of firepower, it isn't surprising that the Cougars went into the break with the 3-0 lead.
"I couldn’t be more pleased," Rockwood said. "You never know what’s going to happen but we came out with a lot of energy. Our transition play was solid and we have a lot of dangerous players. There are things we can work on but for the first game with a new team, I’m very pleased."
BYU started the scoring with a fortunate bounce of the ball. In the eighth minute of play, Cougar senior midfielder Colette Jepson Smith rifled a shot off the crossbar.
It bounced down into the middle of the box, where BYU senior midfielder Cloee Colohan fought with a couple of Haitian defenders for the ball.
"I saw it come off so all I did was crash hard," Colohan said. "I felt it hit my side and so I just brought everyone with me. It was a great shot but getting it to go in was really lucky."
Colohan said scoring allowed the Cougars to settle down and set the tone for the half. From that point, the Cougars pushed forward in waves.
The next score was a tribute to flawless execution as junior forward Jaiden Thornock won the race to a loose ball deep in the left corner. She crossed it perfectly to where senior midfielder Rachel Manning was making a hard run into the box.
With an expert flick of her head, Manning sent the ball into the net and BYU went up 2-0.
“The second goal really allowed us to relax and move the ball better,” Colohan explained.
The final goal of the first half went to freshman forward Ashley Hatch, who broke free and slotted the ball in past the diving Haitian keeper.
The Cougars didn’t let up offensively in the second half.
Colohan added her second goal of the contest and this one came on a well-placed free kick.
“I was nervous because I hit one from that spot in the blue-and-white game,” she said. “I felt like I needed to do it again. I went for the open space on the left side.”
The ball hit the post — something that happened at least a dozen times between the two teams — but this one went sideways and across the line for the goal.
BYU capped the scoring in the 81st minute when former Timpanogos star Marissa Nimmer drilled home her signature arcing long shot to make the final score 5-0.
The young Cougar defense, which lost three of the four starters from last year, stood tall and refused to allow the Haitians to score.
“They got a few shots but for the most part they were outside shots,” Rockwood said. “They played well against some quick, athletic attackers. That’s a great start for them.”
Rockwood said she would like to see her team do a better job keeping rhythm from the backline through the midfield but she’s confident they’ll get better at it.
BYU does have some great talent in the midfield, including the spark of having senior midfielder Niki Fernandes back on the field. She’s missed most of the past two seasons with injuries.
“It’s been a long two years,” Fernandes said. “I’m just happy to be back out there.”
Rockwood said having the skill of the senior will make a big difference for the Cougars this year.
“It’s been a long road to get to this point for her,” Rockwood said. “She’s sacrificed quite a bit and has been working hard all summer.”
The Cougars were also glad to have the chance to get to know their counterparts from Haiti. The two teams got together Thursday night for a party to welcome the visitors from the Caribbean nation.
“They are amazing women,” Fernandes said. “It was very exciting to be able to meet them.”
BYU now turns it’s attention to the contest against Cal-State Fullerton, which will take place on Aug. 23 at 7 p.m.
Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He can also be followed on Twitter at @JaredrLloyd.