PROVO -- A young Cougar team overcame a challenging early schedule to once again prove they are the class of the Mountain West Conference in 2002. After starting 3-5, BYU peeled off 13-straight wins en route to its fourth-consecutive MWC regular season and tournament titles. Cougar players also grabbed top conference honors as well as national recognition for their superb play.
After a solid spring and summer of training, BYU was well prepared to take on the No. 2-ranked Portland Pilots in the Cougars season opener. Senior Jeni Willardson Viernes began a trend of leadership that continued throughout the season as she scored both Cougar goals to give BYU a 2-1 win. Portland's No. 2 ranking marked the highest-ranked opponent to lose to the Cougars in their seven-year history of NCAA Division I competition.
BYU would drop five of its next seven matches, however, as it played four ranked opponents in three weeks, including No. 18 Michigan, No. 18 Kentucky, No. 20 USC and No. 3 UCLA. The fresh-faced Cougars, with 14 sophomores and freshmen on the team, learned valuable lessons during their 3-5 start and applied them to the rest of the season.
The season turned when BYU returned home to face perennial NCAA contender St. Mary's after two-consecutive trips to Southern California to face USC and UCLA. In their first overtime game of the season, the Cougars pulled off a 2-1 victory in double-overtime over the Gaels that sparked their 13-game winning streak.
A six-game road trip covering thousands of miles was the next hurdle for the team as it traveled to six states in 16 days. The road trip ended a perfect 6-0 for BYU, which improved to 10-5, and was capped by a 3-2 win over No. 23 Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.
Having played its last home game on Sept. 27, BYU finally returned home Oct. 24 to begin a season-ending three-game home stand. Wins over UNLV and SDSU set the stage for the Cougars' final regular-season matchup against conference rival Utah in Salt Lake.
The Utes, ranked 24th at the time, were wrapping up their best season to date and had trailed their opponents for a combined total of less than 30 seconds all season. A cohesive, confident Cougar team was up to the challenge, however, as it won 2-1 to clinch its fourth-straight MWC regular-season championship.
After a first-round bye in the MWC tournament, host-school BYU went on a scoring rampage as it romped past SDSU, 9-2, in the tournament's semifinal round. In the final, BYU defeated New Mexico, 5-1, to clinch the teams fourth-consecutive MWC tournament title and earn its sixth-straight bid into the NCAA Women's College Cup.
Picked as one of six regional hosts for the College Cup, BYU welcomed Utah, Portland and Idaho State to South Field for the first and second rounds of the five-round tournament.
While Portland dispatched Idaho State in the afternoon match, BYU again faced Utah in the night cap just 12 days after its 2-1 regular-season win. Utah appeared to be headed for its first-ever victory over the Cougars when it scored a late goal to go up 2-1. But an incredible tying goal by Viernes with 12 seconds remaining in regulation sent the game into overtime. Then, with just over a minute left in the first overtime, BYU's season ended as Utah found the back of the net to advance to the second round of the College Cup.
BYU finished the 2002 campaign with a 16-6 record that included the team's second longest winning streak in its history, one behind the record of 14. As the winning streak grew, BYU continued to garner more votes in the national polls. The last few weeks of the season saw BYU ranked in the top 20 of all the major national polls, climbing as high as 14th. The Cougars' successful season ended with several Cougars receiving accolades for their efforts during the season.
Senior Jeni Viernes concluded her college career by earning top awards at both the conference and national levels. The speedy forward/midfielder was named to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) West Region First Team and was honored as the MWC Player of the Year. The NSCAA West Region honor was Viernes' second All-America award. Additionally, Viernes was named to the All-MWC First Team, the MWC All-Tournament Team, the Soccer America College Women's Team of the Week and the Soccer Buzz Elite Team of the Week. The Murray, Utah, native was also twice named MWC Player of the Week.
Midfielder/defender Aleisha Cramer-Rose was also selected to the NSCAA West Region First Team, her third-straight year receiving an All-America honor. More awards came as the junior was named to the MWC First Team, the MWC All-Tournament Team, the Soccer Buzz Elite Team of the Week and was tabbed as a MWC Player of the Week.
Freshman Brooke Bowman, a native of Plano, Texas, was honored as the MWC Freshman of the Year and was placed on the NSCAA West Region Third Team. Bowman was a MWC Player of the Week and was named to both the All-MWC First team and the MWC All-Tournament Team.
Jennifer Henry-Fielding, a junior forward from Pasco, Wash., was also named to the MWC All-Tournament Team. Junior defender Annie Hoecherl and freshman midfielder/defender Charlene Lui were both placed on the All-MWC Second Team.