BYU women’s soccer coach Jennifer Rockwood earned her college degree in finance.
You would think it was in construction.
Over the course of her 26-year career at the helm she’s built one of the most consistent and successful programs not only on campus but in the country. She’s won nearly 72% of her games (407-117-45) and qualified for the NCAA Tournament 21 times, including this season.
Each year she loses outstanding seniors to graduation, brings in another stellar freshman class and builds another competitive team.
The 2021 Cougars – 11-3-1 overall and the No. 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament – are a perfect example of Rockwood’s ability to rebuild her program and keep it playing at a high level.
The 2019 BYU team was one of her best, rolling through the regular season unbeaten (19-0-1) and advanced to the regional finals before losing to eventual champion Stanford. Rockwood lost an elite scorer (Elyse Flake, 20 goals), most of her back line and her goalkeeper to graduation.
The pandemic canceled the Cougars’ spring season and the 2020 fall campaign, creating uncertainty and doubt.
“We’re really a completely different team,” Rockwood said. “I feel like even though we were a fairly new team, we have experience and great leadership. We’ve also been together for a full year and the team has developed a personality and great chemistry. Typically teams only get one semester together.
“This year we had the same team intact the entire season and we were able to train together all year. It was a great advantage going into the season. We were able to play more games than most teams this spring.”
Rockwood returned one of the country’s best players in midfielder Mikayla Colohan, who was selected in the National Women’s Soccer League draft but opted to return to Provo to play both this spring and next fall. Colohan (11 goals, five assists) and senior forward Cameron Tucker (eight goals, eight assists) have been terrific. Sophomore forward Rachel McCarthy (nine goals, seven assists) didn’t play much in 2019 but has developed into a dangerous scorer. Bella Folino (eight goals, two assists) is healthy and playing well. Rockwood also added Breken Mozingo from UCLA and continues to develop young talent such as Jamie Shepherd and Olivia Wade.
“We’ve been able to average three goals a game returning only four starters,” Rockwood said. “We have Kayla and Cam and some new faces, and they’ve all done a tremendous job. I felt going into the season we were going to be able to score goals and offense would be our strength. Rachel has been phenomenal coming off the bench. It adds such a great dimension to our attack. Bella was out in 2019 with a stress fracture. We really have four players on our team scoring and getting a lot of assists and we’ve getting great results. I’m really excited about our attack.”
Defensively, senior goalkeeper Cassidy Smith has gotten healthy for the first time in her career and has allowed just 16 goals in 15 games (1.09 goals against average). The rebuilt back line, headed by lone returnee Josie Gelalich, has grown better each game. Ole Miss transfer Grace Johnson, freshman Brooke Hale and sophomore Davia Vaka have helped create a solid defense.
“Defensively we were coming in with a new look and we had a lot of work to do there,” Rockwood said. “We’ve made some tremendous progress. We’ve used lots of people on the back line due to injury and we’ve learned some things. The team has come together at the perfect time.”
The Cougars will take on Virginia in Saturday’s second round. The Cavaliers (11-4-2) are a perennial NCAA participant and finished third in the Atlantic Coast Conference, which sent five teams to the NCAA’s, including top two seeds Florida State and North Carolina. Virginia topped Southern Illinois-Edwardsville 3-1 in the first round with two goals from junior forward Alexa Spaanstra.
It’s the Cavaliers 27th consecutive NCAA Tournament berth, the second longest active streak in the country.
“Virginia has a very strong history in the ACC and the NCAA Tournament,” Rockwood said. “They are a very experienced team with a very experienced coach. We have great respect for them. We’re really looking forward to a new experience and playing new teams. It’s a new adventure.”