Sometimes it takes a little adversity for a team to show its mettle.
The No. 10-ranked BYU women’s soccer squad found itself in that position midway through the first half of Saturday’s rivalry game during its 5-1 win over Utah at the Zions Bank Real Academy in Herriman.
The Cougars had been quick to seize the initiative as freshman defender Olivia Smith had gotten to the end line, then crossed the ball to senior forward Cameron Tucker in the middle of the box. Tucker buried the shot to put BYU in front in the fifth minute of play.
But the Utes found an answer in the 18th minute when sophomore Brianna Pearson lofted the ball parallel to the goal but across the face, getting Cougar senior keeper Cassidy Smith to leap to try to punch it away.
It cleared her hand, however, and Utah junior forward Anna Escobedo knocked it back into the middle of the field. The ball hit Smith’s head as she tried to recover from her dive and ricocheted into the goal to tie the score.
“We came out strong but then we had to have one of those talks about coming up and being a little quicker to the ball,” BYU head coach Jen Rockwood said. “Anytime you take a little breather like we did on the throw-in, crazy things can happen in soccer. It was really kind of the only look we gave up but you just never know when a goal can come. It was a good lesson to learn from that. Utah did a good job getting back into it and we had to kind of refocus. I thought the girls did a really good job of not getting frustrated by that and coming back out.”
This was the first chance for BYU to step up to a real challenge and the Cougars answered in a big way.
BYU tallied three more goals in the first half to build a big lead and regain control of the game.
“I felt like we did a really good job responding,” Tucker said in the postgame teleconference. “Obviously getting scored on isn’t ideal but we always know that no matter what we should just keep on going, We have a goal to score at least three goals in every game, so I think we knew that once they scored on us to just keep going no matter what.”
The Cougars took the lead for good when Tucker broke free in the middle and rifled a hard shot at Ute junior keeper SJ Edwards, who was able to deflect it.
The rebound, however, went right to sophomore midfielder Rachel McCarthy in front of an open net and McCarthy tapped it in for the goal.
BYU then got a lucky bounce of its own when Smith attempted a cross the was blocked by a Ute defender right at the near post, only to have it bounce just inside the pole for the third Cougar goal of the contest.
The final tally of the first half came in the 37th minute when McCarthy returned the favor, feeding Tucker in the middle of the box for Tucker’s second goal.
Tucker would notch the only goal of the second half, flicking a ball that was bouncing around the Ute penalty box after a corner kick and getting it to trickle across the line for the hat trick.
“She has some high expectations and we’re excited about her,” Rockwood said. “She had a great year last year and we know she’s going to have a real big breakout year this year. She’s so capable of scoring goals because she is so hard to contain. A lot of what we do is so that we can try and find her high and central because once you get in the box she can really score goals. She’s proved that already in our first two matches. We just love her energy. She’s very, very dangerous and so I’m just really looking forward to seeing her progress throughout the season. I think she’s going to score a lot of goals for us this year.”
One of the highlights of the game from a Utah Valley perspective is the number of area soccer players who were on the field.
McCarthy and midfielder Jamie Shepherd, who both played at American Fork, were frequently competing against their former Caveman teammate, Ragan Fuller, who is now a freshman defender for the Utes.
Cassidy Smith and Tucker both played at Lone Peak, while Utah’s keeper in the second half, freshman Chelsea Peterson, was a star for Orem High.
“Obviously the Utah game is super-fun,” Tucker said. “There are a lot of girls from Utah and so we know a lot of them. It’s a fun, competitive game. It was a lot of fun to be out there tonight.”
BYU (1-0) is just getting started with its nonconference matchups against Pac-12 opponents. The Cougars now get ready to play in southern California against No. 4-ranked UCLA and No. 14-ranked USC.
“We’re trying to play the best teams that we can and playing Pac 12 teams is the best we can do,” Tucker said. “It’s awesome that we get to play such great opponents and have someone so close that’s in the PAC 12 that we can play against.”
The first game will feature BYU taking on the Bruins on Friday. The official start time has not yet been announced.