BYU women's soccer

BYU midfielder Madie Gates, center, celebrates with teammates after her game-winning goal against Utah, on Friday, Sept. 7, 2018. 

The BYU women’s soccer team earned a shutout against Southern Utah last week, but a very unique shutout.

Not only did the Cougars not allow a goal; they didn’t allow a shot attempt in 90 minutes of action. That’s right. The Thunderbirds had zero shots.

So what did BYU goalkeeper Sabrina Davis do all game?

“It’s funny, because a lot of people have asked me that,” said Davis, who logged just over 55 minutes in goal in the 7-0 win. “I was communicating with my back line and staying engaged. Our biggest focus this season is staying and living in the present. I’m doing the ‘what if?’ in my head.”

Through three games against Alabama, Mississippi State and SUU, BYU has not given up a goal in the run of play. In fact, the only goal scored against the Cougars was a penalty kick in the MSU game. With starting defenders Alyssa Jefferson, Rachel Lyman, Danika Serassio and Josie Guinn all returning this season, BYU coach Jennifer Rockwood put her preseason focus on fine tuning the defense.

“We wanted to be a more cohesive unit,” Rockwood said. “It’s rare when you return four on the back line who started last year. We knew we’d have a lot of experience along with Sab back in goal. We wanted to be really clean. We gave up more goals than we thought we should have last year.”

Breaking down the video of the goals against the Cougars last year showed most scoring opportunities for their opponents came from outside the 18-yard line. So the defense was adjusted to limit those kinds of chances.

“It’s the culture here,” Davis said. “Yes, I’m in goal but it all comes down to my back line and the whole team defense as a group. We made it a priority to be a strong defensive team. What I love about our communication is we can be sharp and direct with each other and no one gets their feelings hurt. They take it, grab it and apply it right away. We were hesitant sometimes last year but we’re getting the job done now.”

Defense is just one part of BYU’s game plan. A high-intensity press and a strong attack force opponents to play the Cougars pace of play.

“Our press is something we’ve always done,” Rockwood said. “It’s something that was successful last year but we were using a whole new formation. So we are fine tuning our press. It takes a lot of communication and organization to consistently press like we want to.”

It also takes speed, and the Cougars have it. Lyman – who might be the fastest player on the team – puts tremendous pressure on opponents with her speedy runs up and down the sideline.

“The other team’s forwards have to think more about defense than offense when she’s flying around, and it’s been unbelievable the way she’s been playing,” Rockwood said. “She takes their attackers out of their mindset of scoring. They have to defend Bing (Lyman) and Josie on the wings. We’ve tried to create more space for them to do that.”

BYU (3-0-0) faces arch rival Utah at South Field on Friday. The Cougars have dominated the overall series but most of the games have been close. Last year in Salt Lake City, BYU led 2-0 but Utah rallied to tie the game in the 84th minute. Less than a minute later, senior Madie Gates scored the winner by nudging the ball into the goal off her chest for a 3-2 BYU win.

“It seems like there are always lots of changes in momentum when we play Utah,” Rockwood said. “We had pretty good control of the game last year at the beginning but didn’t put it away. They came back and tied it up. We went back and forth but we found a way to win that game. I’m sure it will be similar Friday night.”

Follow Darnell Dickson on Twitter @darnellwrites or e-mail him at ddickson@heraldextra.com.

Darnell Dickson, who has been covering sports in Utah since 1989 (with a detour to Nebraska for three years somewhere in there), is currently the BYU football columnist and BYU men’s basketball beat writer.

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!