BYU soccer Jamie Shepherd

BYU freshman Jamie Shepherd (12) works the ball upfield against Colorado College at South Field on Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019.

BYU lost just two starters from last year’s women’s soccer team that won the West Coast Conference title, but those two players were critical to its success.

Senior Madie Gates, aside from scoring five goals and handing out two assists, was a team leader off the field as well. Olivia Wade, who started as a midfielder, was named to the WCC All-Freshman team and chose to serve a church mission.

That midfielder spot — referred to as the “holding mid” — specializes in ball skills (passing and dribbling) and keys the offensive attack from the back line to the middle of the field.

Stepping into that role this season is another talented freshman in Jamie Shepherd.

The former American Fork star has impressed the Cougar coaching staff in the few weeks she’s been with the program.

“We have a great freshman class, no question about it,” BYU head coach Jennifer Rockwood said. “We were a little bit nervous about losing Liv (Wade) on her mission, because she did such a great job as a freshman in that spot last year. Jamie just came in and that’s her position. She’s played it for last couple of years. She’s just so solid she makes it look easy and simple.”

Shepherd helped lead American Fork to a state championship in 2017 but her best performance came with her club team, Utah Celtic Premier FC 00, this summer. Two years ago Celtic advanced to the US Youth National Soccer semifinals before losing. Calling 2019 a “revenge season,” the club won the U19 national title and Shepherd was awarded the Golden Boot as the tournament’s most valuable player.

“We’ve seen her play for a long time,” Rockwood said. “She’s really turned it on this last year and a half. She had a great experience being on a really good club team with Steve (assistant coach Steve Magleby) as her coach. She’s playing with a lot of confidence. Knowing that spot was something we really needed, she just stepped in there. Jamie worked our camps this summer so she was around the other girls a lot. She’s adapted really well right off the bat.”

Shepherd said she felt right accepted right away.

“The team culture is just amazing,” Shepherd said. “Each and every player has helped my transition to college become pretty easy. I was able to come out and feel confident and ready to play. I think our speed and our teamwork will help us be successful this season. We have great finishers that can finish and score up top. I’m excited because last year they did so well. I hope I can come in and help them go further this year. “

The Cougars open in SEC country at Alabama and Mississippi State this week before returning to Provo for their home opener against Southern Utah on Aug. 30.

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.

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