From last year’s 7-8-4 record to at least a share of the West Coast Conference title and an automatic NCAA Tournament bid in 2018 is a long haul.

That’s exactly the journey taken by the BYU women’s soccer team, culminated in Saturday’s intense 2-0 victory against No. 6 Santa Clara in front of 2,259 fans at South Field. The Cougars (7-1-0 WCC, 12-4-1 overall) scored two tremendous goals and played rock-solid defense all night to earn the league’s automatic invite to the NCAA Tournament.

BYU coach Jennifer Rockwood and her team found out before the match that a win would put them in the post-season.

“I don’t crunch numbers and I don’t know how tiebreakers work,” Rockwood said. “I don’t like to rely on that. It was such a great performance tonight. We were ready to play right from the start. The turnaround was led by our senior, Madie Gates, who’s made a huge difference in the fight and the positive attitude and the camaraderie for our team and the vision of our program. As well as our junior leadership council — Bing (Rachel Lyman), Elise (Flake), Alyssa (Jefferson), Danika (Serassio), Sab (Sabrina Davis) — and all those people who played key roles in the win tonight.

“Last year didn’t settle well and they fought like crazy to get back to being champions again and one year later, we’re here.”

As often happens in soccer, BYU’s goals were sudden and gorgeous. Mikayla Colohan put BYU on the board in the 14th minute, racing up to steal a Santa Clara pass and launching a shot from 25 yards just over the reach of Broncos keeper Melissa Lowder for a 1-0 Cougar lead.

“Mikayla has been so dangerous for us all year,” Rockwood said. “Her and Liv (Olivia Wade), tonight they were just spectacular controlling the middle. Mikayla has taken the most shots for us and she’s been frustrated she hasn’t scored more. We’ve been telling her she was going to get it when we needed it the most and that was certainly tonight.”

The Cougars held that 1-0 lead at the half and Lyman made it 2-0 in the 53rd minute. Taking a perfect lead pass from Lizzy Braby down the right sideline, Lyman sent a long, arching shot into the deep left corner of the net for the first goal of her BYU career.

It was a very physical and competitive second half that included four yellow cards and a penalty kick save on each side. In the 55th minute, a questionable foul in the box against the Cougars set up a penalty kick for the Broncos Kelsey Turnbow. Davis dove to her right for the stop and eventually kept the clean sheet.

“It’s a little intimidating, I’m not going to lie,” Davis said. “She’s about to wind up and hit this ball right at me or in the goal. So I made a good guess, I guess. Our main goal this week was to keep a shutout. We played for each other and my teammates always had my back. We were just making sure we did our own role and we were holding ourselves accountable to be the very best.”

With one conference match remaining — Saturday at Loyola Marymount — BYU can finish in no worse than a tie for first in the WCC with Santa Clara (6-2-0, 15-3-1). More importantly, the Cougars know they will be going to the postseason after a one-year absence.

“We knew that if we were able to pull off the win we’d go to the tournament,” Rockwood said. “We’ve at least secured one game in the tournament and that’s all you can ask for.”

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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.

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