No. 15 Boise State fell to No. 2 BYU 5-1 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Provo, Utah. It was the first NCAA appearance for the Broncos since 2009, who won their program-first Mountain West Championship title on Saturday, Nov. 9.
The Cougars went into the game undefeated at 18-0-1 and ranked No. 4 in the nation, and the Broncos, entering at 18-4-0, were able to keep up with them in almost every faction but goal-scoring.
“When you get the opportunity to play against the best of the best, you learn a lot about yourself and I think we got to do that today,” said head coach Jim Thomas. “I couldn’t be more proud of our girls for the way that they handled the moment, handled the crowd, handled the pressure.”
The highly physical, aggressive game presented a challenge for both sides, featuring 15 foul calls against the Broncos and 11 against BYU. Several players went down and were slow to get up throughout the night, including seniors Raimee Sherle and Mikayla Schachtell. Sherle went down on a yellow-card foul against BYU in the 72nd minute and would not return to the game, and Schachtell stumbled out of bounds after blocking a shot in the 84th minute.
In front of a sold-out crowd of 3,682, BYU’s Cameron Tucker scored the Cougars’ first two back-to-back goals in the 19th and 20th minute. A header from Emily Curry, assisted by Morgan Stone and McKenna Kynett, in the 22nd minute brought the Broncos within one at the half.
“To be within a goal on the road against a team like that is a great place for us to be, and one that’s a little bit of a jerk for [BYU]; it woke them up a little bit, and you saw a lot more aggressive, assertive runs off the ball from them,” Thomas said.
BYU, who holds the title for No. 2 scoring offense in the country, came out firing in the second half. BYU scored in the 54th, 64th and 67th minutes, and Boise State never caught up. The Broncos ended the night with just six shots, two of which were on target.
Despite being down 5-1 for the last 23:41 of the game, the Broncos never lost their fight. Goalkeeper Sydney Smith had two momentus saves in the last nine minutes of play to prevent the Cougars from extending their lead. She ended the night with nine saves, matching her season-high (Sept. 8 against Utah), and faced 14 shots on goal. Smith ended her collegiate debut season with 78 saves.
“They are the most amazing group of women that I’ve ever been around, and it’s been a pleasure to work with them,” Thomas said about his team. “I thought they held themselves with great aplomb today. They competed and they represented Boise State incredibly well. They overcame a lot of nerves. [It was the] first time for all of us doing this together and they competed, and they gave their best shot.”
The emotion was clear when the buzzer sounded; it was the final buzzer of their career for the seniors. But despite the loss, the group of seven seniors, as well as the rest of the team, will go down in Boise State history as the winningest (and arguably the most determined) soccer program to date.
“I’ve loved my experience at Boise State, I love my teammates to death and this one’s going to be a hard one to move on from,” Sherle said. “Not being a Bronco anymore, it’s going to be touch. But once a Bronco, always a Bronco.”
Boise State finished their record-breaking season with a program-high 18 wins and just five losses. The team also broke school records in goals (46) and shutouts (13) and shutouts (13). Thanks to their 2019 Mountain West regular-season title, Boise State will host the Mountain West tournament again in 2020.
“We’ve all dreamed of going to the NCAA tournament, and to have it at this place with that kind of crowd, it was almost like a dream come true,” Kynett said. “We’re never going to experience anything like this again so I think it was an awesome way to end our career.”