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Memorable season for BYU women’s soccer team ends with loss to Stanford in NCAA semifinals

The No. 1-seeded Cougars featured 10 returned Latter-day Saint missionaries

A memorable season for the BYU women’s soccer team came to a disappointing end with a 2-0 loss to Stanford University in the semifinals of the NCAA women’s soccer tournament in Cary, North Carolina, on Dec. 1.

It was the Cougars’ second trip to the College Cup in three seasons.

“This senior group has been really special,” BYU head coach Jennifer Rockwood said in a news release. “They worked extremely hard and are very committed. They wanted to do something that a BYU team hasn’t done, and that was to win a national championship. It was a little unfortunate tonight, but as I said after the game, they can hold their heads high because we really played a great game.”

BYU’s Olivia Wade-Katoa and Allie Fryer celebrate after Fryer scored a goal against Utah.
BYU’s Olivia Wade-Katoa (10) and Allie Fryer (23) celebrate after Fryer scored their team’s first goal against the University of Utah at Ute Field in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

The loss marked the end of a season in which the BYU women’s soccer team defeated a No. 1-ranked opponent, became No. 1 in the United Soccer Coaches rankings, and captured headlines with a stunning, come-from-behind 4-3 victory over North Carolina in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals, among other accomplishments.

The Cougars finished the season with an overall record of 20-3-3 and went undefeated in Big 12 Conference play (7-0-3) in their first year in the conference.

The United Soccer Coaches honored BYU seniors Brecken Mozingo, Laveni Vaka and Olivia Wade-Katoa as NCAA Division I All-Americans. Mozingo and Vaka received first-team honors, while Wade-Katoa was named to the third team, according to the BYU team’s website.

The North Carolina comeback

On a snowy Nov. 24 night in Provo, BYU got its first-ever victory over the University of North Carolina in remarkable fashion. The Cougars trailed 3-0 before pulling off an improbable 4-3 comeback in the match’s final 10 minutes. The victory will likely go down as one of the most memorable wins in program history.

“What an amazing game,” Rockwood said in the Deseret News. “To have North Carolina here playing on South Field is quite an honor. … The start of the game wasn’t quite what we anticipated. … (I’m) just really proud of the way that these girls played, especially in the second half.”

BYU and North Carolina soccer players compete during a corner kick.
BYU and North Carolina soccer players compete during a corner kick during the NCAA tournament quarterfinals in Provo, Utah, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. BYU’s memorable season came to an end with a lost to Stanford on Dec. 1, 2023 | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Representing the Church of Jesus Christ

The BYU team that fueled its winning year included 10 returned missionaries and other players who were grateful for the opportunity to play for a university sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“I wanted the opportunity to not only represent myself, my team and my school at the highest level but also my Savior, Jesus Christ,” said Zoe Jacobs, a senior defender from Kaysville, Utah, on the team’s website.

Tara Warner, midfielder from Springville, Utah, agreed: “BYU has a great soccer program, and I get to be close to home. I also love representing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Halle Dixon, midfielder from Carlsbad, California, said: “BYU aligns with all of my goals as a person, player and daughter of God.”

BYU soccer players Sierra Pennock and Tara Warner celebrate their win over Utah.
BYU’s Sierra Pennock (8) and Tara Warner (21) celebrate their win over the University of Utah at Ute Field in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

BYU’s returned missionaries

Among BYU’s returned missionaries are several key players, including Wade-Katoa and Savanna Mason, the starting goalkeeper. They served in locations around the globe and several learned Spanish or Portuguese.

  • Junior forward/midfielder Lytiana Akinaka served in the Colorado Denver North Mission (English and Spanish).
  • Sophomore goalkeeper Haven Empey served in the Washington Seattle Mission.
  • Sophomore forward Addie Gardner served in the Cape Verde Praia Mission (Portuguese).
  • Freshman goalkeeper Lynette Hernaez served in the Utah Salt Lake City South Mission (English).
  • Freshman goalkeeper Kelsey Hoopes served in the Texas McAllen Mission (Spanish).
  • Junior goalkeeper Savanna Mason served in the New Zealand Hamilton Mission (English).
BYU soccer goalkeeper Lynette Hernaez (00) makes a save against North Carolina.
BYU soccer goalkeeper Lynette Hernaez (00) makes a save against North Carolina during the NCAA tournament quarterfinals in Provo, Utah, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
  • Freshman midfielder Josie Shepherd served in New Hampshire Manchester Mission (English).
  • Sophomore midfielder/forward Caroline Stringfellow served in the Brazil São Paulo South Mission (Portuguese).
  • Senior midfielder Olivia Wade-Katoa served in the Texas Houston Mission (Spanish).
  • Freshman midfielder/forward Jacey Wood served in the Texas Lubbock Mission (Spanish).

Two other Cougars are currently serving missions:

  • Abbie Kotter, Lisbon Portugal Mission (Portuguese).
  • Paola Garcia, Ecuador Guayaquil West Mission (Spanish).

Wade-Katoa was featured in a Dec. 4 Instagram post by the Church in which she talked about facing life’s challenges and finding peace and strength by focusing on Jesus Christ.

Related Story
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Meet the women’s college soccer team bidding missionary farewells to almost a third of its roster
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