BYU goalkeeper Cassidy Smith for the Cougars’ 1-0 win over Pepperdine, Nov. 6, 2021 at South Field in Provo | © BYU PHOTO 2021 All rights reserved (Ryan Campbell, BYU Photo)
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PROVO — Cassidy Smith has been waiting for this season for seven years, so taking advantage of a medical red shirt and an extra year from the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on college sports wasn’t an issue.
However, the season itself certainly was.
While the fourth-placed BYU women’s soccer team has set up an offensive showcase behind an all-time goalscorer in Mikayla Colohan and fellow senior Cameron Tucker, Smith and the Cougar defenses have quietly been the backbone of the team.
Without the Lone Peak graduate, it’s hard to say where this team would be. Sure, there’s a good chance they wouldn’t be ready to host a National Quarterfinals Saturday night at South Field (5pm MT, BYUtv).
“Cass has had quite the journey here at BYU,” said BYU coach Jennifer Rockwood of her seventh-year senior who wore a red shirt for two seasons and played one game as a defender as a freshman in 2016. “I couldn’t be more proud of the way where she fought her way through everything; she was a backup for two years, a starter last year and gained a lot of valuable experiences.”
In her final season on the program — even COVID seniors, as they’re often called, last forever — Smith brought the team back to South Field one last time. Win or lose, there will be no more game on the field. Win and the Cougars advance to the Final Four for the first time in program history, this year in Santa Clara, California.
Losing and, well, Smith and her teammates would rather not think about that. The senior has already played two labral tears, a third she never had surgically repaired, and seven senior nights — including hers, where the Cougars took a West Coast Conference title with a 1-0 extra-time win over Pepperdine — and route to BYU’s fourth all-time Elite Eight appearance.
The lead-up to her final performance in Provo was emotional to say the least.
“I wasn’t expecting it, but this feels good, too,” said Smith, a triplets graduating in December with a degree in exercise and wellness and a career in athletics administration. “This is home; this is where we play our best football. We are excited to welcome South Carolina here and show them what South Field is like.
“We play for our fans. They bring so much energy and we try to take the opportunity and match their energy.”
BYU has an all-time offense tempered by Colohan, the Davis High product already drafted by the NWSL’s Orlando Pride and has returned for one final season at her alma mater.
Colohan, who was? recently engaged to former BYU baseball star Jackson Cluff, has scored 51 goals in her career, the third-best figure in BYU history (so far) to go along with 140 points in total — good for second place all-time, including a hat-trick and an assist against Alabama in the team’s final tournament.
But behind every good striker is an equally talented goalkeeper, and Smith is making her mark on the record book. Alpine’s 1-foot-9 senior has allowed 47 saves and 12 goals in 21 games this year, a .833 save percentage that is currently the fourth-best in a season in BYU history and the best since Rachel Boaz finished as top scorer. at .900 in 2015-16.
“She’s been here a long time, but Cassidy is incredible; she brings such a loud voice behind us,” Colohan said. “She directs everything on the pitch and she is such a good leader. So many girls on this team just look up to her. She is consistent with her energy every day, motivates the team, leads the way and embraces a good, positive culture for our team.
“Everyone jumped on that ship with her and we just rode on it with her.”
In the Cougars’ 1-0 victory over Virginia in the Round of 16, Smith was on full display. Tucker snuck one past the Cavaliers defense in the 47th minute and the defense did the rest, setting the pace with three saves from Smith.
With the win, BYU avenged last year’s loss to Virginia in the NCAA Tournament. That could become a trend Saturday against South Carolina, which eliminated the Cougars from the tournament in 2016 — Smith’s first year on campus, before the injuries, heartbreak and time spent on the bench chasing some of the top goalkeepers.
Again, it all comes back to Smith.
“There’s no question, to get to this point, you have to have a phenomenal goalkeeper,” Rockwood said. “And Cass has done a phenomenal job, along with our rear guard.
“We’ve come so far from last spring season when we lost to Virginia. We’ve come so far on our backline led by Grace Johnson, Laveni Vaka and Jamie Shepherd who is as good a number 6 as no one in the country .”
As the closing seconds ticked away, Smith triumphantly raised her large gloved fists and waited as the team sped onto the field — bench and all — as royally-clad fans occupying about a third of the stadium in Charlottesville crowed the BYU battle anthem.
“That was by far our best performance we’ve had,” said Smith. “Just feel like the pieces are coming together and it’s all turned out the way it was supposed to. We’re more than ready to go into the Elite Eight.”
NCAA Women’s Soccer Tournament
No. 4 BYU (15-4-1) vs. South Carolina (14-6-1)
kick off: 5pm MT at South Field, Provo
Radio: BYU Cougars App
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