TALAHASSEE, Fla. – In a match-up of wits and athleticism, the University of Colorado came out the victor, defeating No. 19 Brigham Young University 2-1 in the NCAA Women’s Soccer Championship Round of 32 here Thursday.
Behind first-half goals by sophomore Emily Paxton and junior Carly Bolyard, the Buffaloes took down the Cougars to advance the Sweet 16. This is CU’s second trip to the third round of NCAAs – the Buffs advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2006 to post the program’s best NCAA finish.
“I think first and foremost to beat a team of BYU’s quality is a tremendous testament to how we have grown as a program throughout the year,” CU head coach Danny Sanchez said. “We have struggled at the end of the season and never lost focus; we have never lost any fight, I’m just real proud on how they just kept working. As far as the game today, we knew that BYU would bring a lot of pressure and Emily got that early goal which gave us a lot of confidence and then Carly got the second. You know what they say a 2-0 lead is the most dangerous lead, which I disagree because if it was 1-0 and would have been tied, but there is always a tendency to relax a little bit and I think that they caught us and made it 2-1 with about 30 minutes to go, but I feel after that we played very well.”
Colorado improves to 14-6-2 overall. The Buffs are now 9-0-1 when scoring at least two goals. CU is also 2-3-2 against ranked opponents, picking up back-to-back wins over ranked opponents for the first time since 2010 when the Buffs beat No. 12 UCLA and No. 6 Texas A&M in back-to-back games.
BYU’s eight game unbeaten streak and season both come to an end. The Cougars gave up two goals for just the fourth time this season (only one other time did that result in a loss). BYU ends its season with a 15-5-1 record.
Though the Cougars edged the Buffs in shots (17 to 11) and shots on goal (seven to five), CU netted the shots that mattered most, and keeper Annie Brunner grabbed six saves. Though the Cougars entered the game holding the nation’s 19th best goals-against average and 29th best shutout percentage, the CU attack was too much for West Coast Conference Goalkeeper of the Year Erica Owens.
“We defended like warriors; BYU was putting so much pressure on us near the end of the game and we were just smart going forward,” Sanchez said. “We had a couple of chances to make it a 3-1 game, but I’m just real proud of this team because I don’t think these players understand what this means to the University of Colorado, what it means to the alumni and former players. It's just big for our players now and whether it’s soccer, basketball or football we are just really pleased to represent a great institution at this level.”
BYU seemed primed to make some big moves in the beginning of the game, taking the first four shots. In the sixth minute, after a long Alex Huynh free kick found its way to the front of the Cougar net, CU couldn’t retain possession. BYU rushed back, and Paige Hunt sent a ball wide off a corner kick.
While the Cougars were dominating the pace, the CU defense remained solid. In the eighth minute, Marissa Nimmer sent the ball toward the net for an easy save by Brunner. Cloee Colohan continued the offensive pressure, first getting stopped by a big-time block by Lizzy Herzl and then, despite creating some space in front of the net, hitting the ball wide right.
The Buffs got their moment in the 15 and 16th minutes, when Darcy Jerman and Anne Stuller both hit their shots just high, helping the squad gain momentum. The Cougars once again got back into Buffalo territory, but this time, it was Niki Fernandes who rushed her shot wide.
CU responded with a big attack. In the 21st minute, sent her corner kick to the near post. The ball got to Emily Paxton, who shot to the far post. The ball deflected off a BYU player to fall into the net and put the Buffs up 1-0.
“It was a great build up,” Paxton said. “It was also a great through ball from Madi to earn the corner and it was a near post ball. It felt like the longest two seconds that I’ve had before they came after me and luckily it went in.”
The Buffs continued to press, taking two more corner kicks in the 25th and 26th minutes. The first was finger-tipped away by Owens at the net, but the second couldn’t stay in the Buffs’ possession.
The Cougars looked to even the score, taking three consecutive shots. First, Nimmer sent a field goal of a kick to the net. Jaiden Thornock matched her pace, rushing in in an attempt to beat several CU defenders. Huynh came in for the tackle and Brunner was ready for the ensuing save. Brunner picked up another save in the 30th minute, after Ella Johnson booted the ball her way.
BYU’s attack wouldn’t last for long, as CU extended its lead to 2-0 in the 34th minute. From 18 yards out, Carly Bolyard took a beautiful shot that reached Owens, who wasn’t able to hold onto the ball and could only watch as the ball slid into the net. Madison Krauser provided the assist from the far post.
The goal was Bolyard’s first since she netted a goal and contributed an assist in the Buffs’ 5-0 win over Colorado College in the 2011 Colorado Cup. “It feels amazing, that moment in unforgettable and it’s just nice to finally get one,” Bolyard said of her goal.
Stuller and Brooke Rice would both take shots for CU in the final 10 minutes of the half as the Cougars were forced to play defense. Though the game became more physical in the final six minutes, CU’s 2-0 lead would hold at the break.
The Buffs picked up right where they left off to start the second half. In the 52nd minute, Mikaela Kraus sent a shot wide. Less than a minute later, Paxton forced Owens to grab her first save of the game. However, the momentum would quickly turn in BYU’s favor. In the 58th minute, Fernandes got one-on-one with Hayley Hughes in the right edge of the box. Fernandes found her opportunity and shot the ball high to the far post.
The Cougars continued to push the CU defense and got their scoring opportunity in the 59th minute. Brunner got faked out and fell to the far post as Fernandes snuck in a goal from 10 yards out. Rachel Manning was credited with the assist as the Cougars narrowed the Buffs’ lead to 2-1.
Both hungry to keep their season alive, CU and BYU combined for five shots in an eight minute span, with the Cougars grabbing a three to two edge. Fernandes and Hughes were once again head-to-head, with Fernandes getting the advantage and forcing a save. The Buffs and Cougars battled back and forth for possession and offensive dominance, but it was BYU who would find their stride on the attack. With 20 minutes remaining, Fernandes took her fourth consecutive shot, getting blocked to set up a corner, where Manning would head the ball wide.
CU was able to respond, with Paxton continuing her strength in front of the net, taking a shot from the right edge to force another save. In the 77th minute, Jerman took the Buffs’ final shot of the game, hitting the ball wide past the far post.
In the closing minutes, BYU sent everyone forward, causing a close call in the 83rd minute. Following a corner kick, a group of Cougars fought to even the score. First, Johnson used her head to force a save. Then, Colohan got the ball, knocking one into the crossbar. Hughes and Fernandes met one final time, with Brunner meeting her blocked shot to close out the game.
The Buffs will face host team No. 1 seeded Florida State. Kick-off of the Sweet 16 game is at noon ET (10 a.m. MT) on Saturday, Nov. 23. at Florida State Soccer Stadium.
“It’s just awesome, I told (coach) that he can’t get rid of us yet,” Hughes said. “I think as seniors we just want to keep going because we aren’t ready to be done. I think that it’s just awesome and it means a lot to us and there are also a lot of people that are following us. I have teachers and just old teammates that are just so invested in this and it just means a lot to us and this is a great experience and we just want to keep going.”