While the Boise State women’s soccer team has never faced BYU, coach Jim Thomas knows just what to expect when the Broncos enter South Field in Provo, Utah, today for their NCAA Tournament game.
As an assistant coach at the University of Washington in 2012, his last season before taking over the Broncos, Thomas watched as the Huskies walked into Provo ranked No. 23 in the nation and left with a 3-1 loss.
“They got a fervent crowd, they’re very soccer educated,” Thomas said. “They’re not there just to be there, they’re involved with the team.”
The Broncos (18-4-0) take on the No. 2-seeded Cougars (18-0-1) at 6 p.m. in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. It marks the second time in program history the Broncos have played in an NCAA Tournament game and the first time since 2009 when they lost to UCLA 7-1 in the first round.
“It’s the culmination of a year’s work,” Thomas said. “There’s a buzz that finally we get to play in a game we’ve worked for so long. There’s always a worry as a coach that when you achieve something for the first time that they’re going to stop working, and that’s not happening. They’re super excited to play in front of a great crowd and a great team. It’s a game that we’ve been working for to compete at this level.”
With players like Raimee Sherle, who has a school-record 61 career goals, and Sydney Smith, who had 13 shutouts for the Broncos this season, the chance to play against the Cougars will be a welcome challenged. Led by Elise Flake (18 goals, 5 assists) and Mikayla Colohan (14 goals, 6 assists), the Cougars are second in the nation with 3.58 goals per game. Defensively, they have allowed just nine goals on the season and rank 10th in the nation with a 0.49 goals-against average.
The Cougars are the only team in NCAA Division I women’s soccer to enter the tournament undefeated, with their only blemish to their perfect record coming in a 2-2 tie at Santa Clara.
“No one’s figured it out yet, we plan on being the first to do that,” said Thomas. “They have a tremendous front line that can score at will. They have one of the best midfielders in the WCC and they’re aggressive on defense.”
Thomas called South Field one of the top venues in all of college soccer, adding that it’s expanded since he was last there seven years ago. In nine home games this season, the Cougars have averaged 3,242 fans, which is most in the nation by nearly 1,000 per game.
He expects the crowd today to be BYU’s largest of the season.
“I don’t think you put it out of your mind, you have to face all the things you’re challenged by,” he said about the crowd size. “We’ve addressed it and we’ve faced it. We feel like we’ve got some experience with big crowds and we’ve got techniques we’re prepared to use when we can’t communicate with our players.”
It’s already been arguably the most successful season in Boise State history, with the 18 wins shattering the previous record of 13. But the coach said this team isn’t satisfied just yet.
“I think there’s a huge amount of excitement in that group,” Thomas said. “They’ve opened that door to that opportunity. This group has been defined by changing legacies, changing records, rewriting history and they’ve been excited about rewriting the ultimate history, which is how we do in the NCAA Tournament.”