BYU’s historic trip to national soccer championship ends in dramatic shootout loss

There is perhaps no lonelier moment in team sports than soccer’s penalty-kick team shootout.

And for the losing side — perhaps no crueler moment.

Three days after securing a first trip to the NCAA national championship by winning a penalty-kick shootout in the semifinals, Brigham Young University women’s soccer team found itself Monday, Dec. 6, on the short end of a gut-wrenching PK shootout.

Following 110 minutes of scoreless soccer, Florida State University defeated the Cougars in the shootout, 4 goals to 3.

“It was a great game,” said Jennifer Rockwood, the only person to coach the Cougars in the soccer program’s 27-year history. “We’re really proud of our players and our team. I thought we battled hard. … We’ve had a phenomenal year.”

Brigham Young Cougars forward Cameron Tucker (20) and Florida State Seminoles Heather Payne compete during the NCAA national soccer championship at Stevens Stadium at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California, on Monday, Dec. 6, 2021.
Brigham Young Cougars forward Cameron Tucker (20) and Florida State Seminoles Heather Payne compete during the NCAA national soccer championship at Stevens Stadium at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California, on Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Despite the sting of losing Monday, the veteran coach remained philosophical about games being decided by penalty kicks. 

“You win some and you lose some when it goes to PKs. We’ve been on both sides of that. But I’m so proud of the way we competed tonight and the way we represented our school and our conference.”

Historic season on the pitch

In a 2021 women’s college soccer season defined by moments of high drama, it’s apropos that BYU’s maiden trip to the national title game would end with its global fan base’s collective hearts in their collective throats.

The teams were evenly matched. And no one could truly pick a winner until Seminoles’ midfielder Yujie Zhao poked the title-winning kick past Cougar goalkeeper Cassidy Smith.

Stevens Stadium in Santa Clara, California, could have been dubbed “BYU-West Coast” on Monday. Most of the seats were filled with blue-clad, flag-waving Cougar fans. Even the ESPN broadcast crew noted the final “felt like a home game” for the Cougars. 

BYU fans cheer prior to the NCAA national women's soccer championship at Stevens Stadium at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California, on Monday, Dec. 6, 2021.
BYU fans cheer prior to the NCAA national women’s soccer championship at Stevens Stadium at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California, on Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Chants of “BYU! BYU!” helped lift the physically and emotionally spent athletes. “Cougar Nation always supports us and helps our girls have energy. The [fans] are like the 12th man,” said Rockwood.

As students at the Church’s flagship university, BYU players are asked to represent their team, their school and, yes, the Church. Rockwood said her young athletes are honored to represent each organization.

“We spend a lot of time talking about representing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” she said. “It’s something we are all extremely proud of. It’s probably the No. 1 reason why most of these girls come to BYU.”

Pressure comes with those high expectations to represent the Church, she added. “But each of these girls are committed to doing that. None of us are perfect, but we’re trying to be the best people that we can be.”

BYU vs. FSU: A match of equals

The two teams shared the run of play through much of the game’s opening half.

The Cougars appeared to strike first when All-America forward Cameron Tucker broke away from the Seminole backline and buried a ball in the back of the net. But Tucker’s goal was nixed by a debatable offside call.

Then in the 32nd minute, the game took a seemingly ominous turn when BYU’s star midfielder Mikayla Colohan tangled up with a Florida State player and injured her right leg. She would not return for first-half play, so much of BYU’s creative duties were assumed by returned missionary Olivia Wade.

Brigham Young Cougars midfielder Mikayla Colohan is injured during the NCAA national soccer championship at Stevens Stadium at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California, on Monday, Dec. 6, 2021.
Brigham Young Cougars midfielder Mikayla Colohan is injured during the NCAA national soccer championship at Stevens Stadium at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California, on Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

With Colohan’s return in the second half, the Cougars and Seminoles proved evenly matched. In the game’s 81st minute, BYU sophomore midfielder Jamie Shepherd nearly broke the scoreless tie with a shot inside the penalty box that sailed just above the Florida State crossbar. 

A Seminole corner kick bounced off the Cougar crossbar in the closing ticks of regulation. The scoreless game went to 20 minutes of overtime. Again, no score — meaning the national title would be decided by penalty kicks.

Colohan buried the shootout’s first kick — officially marking the end of her brilliant BYU career. Now the Kaysville, Utah, native will take her talents to the professional ranks. She will likely be joined by Tucker, her teammate and close friend.

“We had our fair share of [scoring] opportunities,” said Colohan after the game. “But like [Rockwood] said, PKs are tough. They can go either way. But I’m so proud of my team.” 

A Sabbath day of rest

Monday’s national championship game was actually scheduled for a day earlier. 

But after BYU beat semifinal opponent Santa Clara on Friday, Dec. 3, the NCAA final was moved back a day to accommodate the Church school’s policy restricting Sabbath-day play.

So instead of playing soccer, many Cougar players and coaches attended church at a local meetinghouse.

Like Latter-day Saints across the globe, several of the Cougars are observing the Church’s “Light the World” initiative. Social media posts captured several players sharing ways they are lighting the world by smiling, caring for others, performing missionary service and reading the Book of Mormon.