BYU women’s soccer takes on home-standing Santa Clara in NCAA semifinals
In 33 years as a member of the BYU women’s soccer program, there was something missing from Jennifer Rockwood’s resume: A berth in the Women’s College Cup.
Rockwood and the Cougars will take care of that omission on Friday when they meet Santa Clara in the NCAA semifinals at Stevens Stadium, the Broncos home field.
Rockwood has been the women’s soccer coach for 27 years, with an additional six as a player and club coach for the Cougars. She’s won 424 matches at a better than 70 percent clip in her long and storied career.
“This means a lot,” Rockwood said. “It is a huge milestone and I think anyone who goes into the coaching profession is trying to get to the Final Four and win a national championship. I have had the opportunity to coach amazing athletes over the years and we really have had some fantastic teams, Some teams who have been really close, and we haven’t quite been there. I have a lot of support around me and an amazing staff that has helped me in my job.”
The Cougars have reached the Elite 8 three other times (2003, 2012, 2019) and finally broke through this season with the highest scoring offense in the country.
“I’m thrilled,” Rockwood said. “I have worked pretty much my whole career to get to this point and I am just going to try to enjoy it. We have had our ups and downs and just like any team. You battle through the rough times and learn from them and try to play your best soccer at the end of the season. Right now I feel we are playing our best soccer.”
One of those rough times was during the preseason, when BYU lost at home to Utah State 2-1 in overtime. It was the first ever loss to the Aggies in 15 meetings and dropped the Cougars to 5-3-1 overall.
Not the type of start expected from a team that returned virtually its entire starting lineup from the spring season, which finished 11-4-1 and a second-round NCAA appearance.
What followed after the loss to Utah State was a run of 12 wins in 13 matches, with the only loss a 1-0 decision to Santa Clara on the road.
“We are looking forward to the rematch for sure,” Rockwood said. “I think any time you play a team in the season and don’t get the result, you are anxious for an opportunity to get back at them. They are a very talented team, defending national champions, and they have a lot of weapons. They have tremendous players who we are very familiar with us and a coach who I have looked up to since I began my career.
“It will be a tough match-up for us, but I think the girls should come in with a lot of confidence knowing we played pretty well there just a month ago. I think we are better now than when we first played them. We have worked on being a little bit cleaner and a little bit sharper and finding opportunities in front of the goal. It is going to be a fantastic match-up with a lot of very talented players on the field, which is always exciting to watch.”
One of the keys to BYU’s run of strong play has been getting an early goal and taking control of the tempo.
“You definitely get a feeling out on the field but I think it all depends on that first one and making sure we get it in,” BYU’s Brecken Mozingo said. “After that, our coaches always say ‘Score first, score early and score again.’ That’s our motto.”
The Cougars are averaging 3.5 goals per match. Eight times this season BYU has scored six or more goals and the team is coming off a 4-1 victory against South Carolina in the Elite Eight.
In September, the NCAA moved the Women’s College Cup from PayPal Park in San Jose to Santa Clara’s Stevens Stadium due to a potential conflict with the MLS’s updated playoff schedule. Ultimately, the San Jose Earthquakes did not make the playoffs and were eliminated from contention on Oct 27, six weeks before the College Cup. The move seems a bit shortsighted by the NCAA and it gives Santa Clara a huge home-field advantage in the most important match of the season.
“We are very fortunate to play in front of the best fan base in the country that has supported us through the years and especially this past season,” Rockwood said. “I think we will have a good amount of fans down at Santa Clara because Cougar Nation tends to show up for women’s soccer. I think that will help the girls feel like the game is a little more like a home game with all those fans in the stands. I do think we have an advantage of having played down at Santa Clara before. Our seniors have played three or four times on that field and we have played well there the past few years.”
NCAA Women’s Soccer College Cup
BYU (17-4-1) vs. Santa Clara (15-5-2)
Friday, 7:30 p.m. MT
Stevens Stadium, Santa Clara
Radio: BYU Radio 107.9 FM/BYU Cougars app/Sirius XM 143
Live stats: byucougars.com
The Word: Santa Clara leads the overall series with BYU 3-9-5. … The Broncos won the regular season meeting 1-0 at Stevens Stadium. … The Cougars 2-1 win last March was their first ever victory in Santa Clara. … The Broncos won last year’s NCAA title, beating Florida State in penalty kicks. … The earlier semifinal (5 p.m. MT) pits a pair of No. 1 seeds in Rutgers (21-3-0) and Florida State (20-1-2).