Lizzy Braby came to play soccer at BYU almost by accident.
The Murray native grew up loving the sport but the cost of playing for an elite soccer club kept her kind of out of the spotlight.
She ended up playing for Murray Max club soccer with former BYU great Nadia Gomes, which caught the attention of Cougar coach Jennifer Rockwood.
“They saw us because I played with Nadia and our team was pretty good,” Braby said. “BYU offered and that’s when I started thinking about going there. Our club team was not well known.”
Braby — a 5-foot-2-inch forward — has played in 76 matches in her BYU career, starting 49. She’s scored 10 goals as a Cougar and has 18 assists, 13 of them this season.
“She’s playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Rockwood said. “Building out of the back, Lizzy is someone we’re looking for just because of her ability to take players on and get behind defenses. She can get her shot off and get her cross off, which has led to a lot of chances for us.
“A lot of teams try to shut us down on that right side with her and Bing (Rachel Lyman) because they move the ball up so well. We’ve made a few adjustments and those adjustments have worked. It’s been Lizzy being confident and not hesitating and going forward, knowing once she gets the ball she can beat anyone on the field. They can’t contain her.”
Braby has two assists in each of BYU’s past two victories.
“We changed our formation last year,” Braby said. “I kind of got a feel for it and we were trying things out. This year I have a better idea of my strengths, especially on the wing. The way we play is so structured and there are movements we practice all the time. We’ve done a really good job of seeing where the open space is and playing into it.”
Opponents are obviously worried about BYU’s leading scorer, Elise Flake (19 goals) and playmaking midfielder Makayla Colohan (14 goals, six assists). But when the ball finds Braby on the right side of the pitch, she’s been able to consistently set up her teammates and create dangerous opportunities.
“I love going 1 v. 1,” Braby said. “My footwork has always been one of my strengths. I’m pretty confident, especially going 1 v. 1 and getting my cross off. I love setting my teammates up for success.”
BYU’s second round opponent is 23rd-ranked Louisville (13-4-2), which finished fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference with a record of 5-3-2.
The ACC is a powerhouse league that sent eight teams to the NCAA Tournament, including three of the top four seeds in North Carolina, Virginia and Florida State.
“Louisville is the fourth team in the ACC and the teams above them are all one seeds, so that tells you the quality season they have had,” Rockwood said. “They’re used to high-end competition every single week.”
The Cardinals come to Provo having played only six true road games this season. Thursday will be their first outside of the Eastern time zone. Louisville opened the NCAA Tournament with a 1-0 home win against Lipscomb, the goal coming on a first-half header by Sarah Hernandez after a free kick.
Junior Emina Ekic leads the Cardinals on the offensive side with eight goals and eight assists, and junior keeper Gabby Kouzelos has allowed 13 goals and notched 47 saves this seaon
“They’ve scored a lot of their goals on free kicks and set pieces,” BYU senior goalkeeper Sabrina Davis said. “That’s something our coaches have all talked about, that we need to be better defensively on those set pieces. They do a good job playing out of the back. There’s something they haven’t seen: They haven’t seen BYU soccer, so that’s something I’m excited about.”
BYU is riding a nine-match win streak (having tied Santa Clara 2-2 on Oct. 5) and has won 15 straight matches at South Field.
“We’ve said it all season,” Braby said. “If we just play our game, if we focus on our strengths and play to what we know we can play, I don’t think any team can stop us. We just have to focus on our strengths and what we’re capable of doing.”
The early match at South Field pits another ACC team, North Carolina State (11-6-4) against No. 3 seed Arkansas (17-3-2) from the SEC.
The winners of Thursday’s matches will play at 6 p.m. Saturday, also at South Field.