Senior All-American Aleisha Rose led the Cougars to one of their best season's in history during 2003. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
The 2003 season will forever be remembered as one of the most successful years in BYU women's soccer history, highlighted by the team's appearance in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Women's College Cup for the first time in the program's nine-year history.
Throughout the season the team overcame challenges to reach new milestones, as head coach Jennifer Rockwood and several Cougars improved their resumes with big wins and big performances.
"From the beginning of the season I could tell these girls had something special," said Rockwood. "I knew this team was destined for some great things."
Rockwood's feelings proved to be correct as the players consistently exceeded expectations and showed that the BYU women's soccer program is one of the top programs in the nations.
During the regular season, BYU amassed a 3-2-1 record against teams ranked in the top-25 including wins over No. 7 Tennessee, No. 14 Kentucky and No. 14 USC. The Cougars' two loses both came in overtime as No. 2 Florida and No. 14 Utah slipped past BYU by scores of 3-2 and 1-0, respectively.
The Cougars made some noise on the national scene as well when BYU started the season ranked No. 24 and climbed as high as No. 12 in some national polls before finishing the season with a No. 14 ranking and a fifth-place finish in the NCAA Tournament.
Senior All-American Aleisha Rose continued her domination of the competition at the midfielder position as she frustrated defenders and orchestrated the Cougar's offense with precision.
On the national scene, Rose earned her fourth-straight All-America citation as an NSCAA/adidas third-team All-American, a Soccer Buzz second-team All-American, a Soccer America MVP, a Soccer Post first-team All-American, she was a semifinalist for the Hermann Trophy and was a finalist for the Soccer Buzz Player of the Year.
Rose once again garnered conference accolades as she was named the Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year, earned her fourth-straight All-MWC first-team selection, was named to her fourth MWC All-Tournament Team and led the conference in assists for a second-straight year.
Two other Cougars garnered national attention, as junior Krissa Campbell and freshman Nicole Jensen were both named to the NSCAA/adidas All-West Region third team. Jensen was also honored as a Soccer Buzz third-team Freshman All-American, a third team All-West Region selection and was named to the Freshman All-West Region team.
BYU played its toughest schedule in history during the 2003 season, with nine teams on the schedule that finished 2002 ranked in the top 25. Despite having a tough schedule, the Cougars finished the year with a 16-7-3 mark, including a 4-4-2 record against top-25 teams.
The Cougars set out on the 2003 season with high hopes and expectations of bringing home a fifth-consecutive MWC championship title.
In the opening game of the season, the No. 24 Cougars hosted No. 17 Michigan at South Stadium. A game that would last 200 minutes, thanks to a 90-minute lightning delay and a double-overtime impasse that left the final score at 0-0.
After playing to a tie with the Wolverines, the Cougars went on a four-game tear that saw the Cougars reel off 10 goals while allowing only one score.
The Cougars downed visiting Colgate 2-0 on Aug. 30, to grab the first win of the season. Sophomore Jaime Rendich broke loose for the Cougars, scoring both goals in the game.
That week freshman Nicole Jensen was honored by the MWC as the first Defensive Player of the Week, for her defense that helped produce back-to-back shutouts to open the season.
One week later the No. 7 Tennessee Volunteers came to town, the Vols and Cougars appeared to be headed for overtime as neither team was able to get on the scoreboard. But BYU came through and scored one of the most exciting goals of the year as Rose sent a free kick from 18 yards out into the Vols' box and found freshman Annie Zwahlen whose header gave the Cougars a 1-0 upset victory.
A South Stadium record-setting crowd of 2,758 was on hand to witness the victory, breaking the previous record of 2,191set in the home opener against Michigan.
Freshman Claire Thomas was named the MWC Defensive player of the Week and was named to the Soccer America Team of the Week for her defense that helped shutout the Vols.
BYU followed up the emotional victory by dominating Southern Utah in a 5-0 route. In the game, Rose set a new BYU and South Stadium record for most assists in a single game with four handouts. With her third assist in the game, Rose also became the No. 1 all-time leader in assists at BYU. That week she was named the MWC Offensive Player of the Week and was named to the Soccer America Team of the Week and Soccer Buzz Elite Team of the Week.
Riding a 4-0-1 record and boasting a No. 12 national ranking, the Cougars headed to the Kentucky Invitational for their first road trip of the season. Facing No. 14 Kentucky in Lexington, the Cougars fell behind 1-0 in the opening minute but held their composure and battled back into the game.
Midway through the first period, Rose tied up the game with a shot into the upper left corner for the goal from 17 yards out. Rose wasn't done as she and freshman Bobbi Tillotson connected with senior Lydia Ojuka for the game-winning goal with less than five minutes left in regulation.
In the second game of the tournament, BYU jumped out to a 2-0 lead over Iowa in the first period. The Hawkeyes came back in the second period and a questionable penalty call tied the game at 2-2. In overtime, Iowa's goal in the third minute handed BYU its first loss of the season.
BYU returned to Provo after the loss to host Montana and Idaho State. The Grizzlies upset the Cougars 1-0 on Sept. 19 but BYU bounced back and dominated ISU with a 2-0 performance and then traveled to Spokane, Wash., for a game with Gonzaga that the Cougars won easily 4-0.
The Cougars, now at 6-2-1, returned home to face one of the hottest teams in the country in undefeated No. 2 Florida. On Sept. 26, with the second-largest South Stadium crowd (2,412) in history on hand, the Cougars and Gators traded goals to start the game before Florida would strike again just before the end of the first period to send the teams into the break at 2-1.
Midway through the second period, Rose used a corner kick to pass the ball to Jensen who fired in a shot from 20 yards out to tie the game at two apiece to end regulation. The Gators scored first in overtime to hand the Cougars the heartbreaking 3-2 overtime loss.
Despite losing the close game, the Cougars gained a lot of confidence from the contest and ripped of six wins in their next seven games, including two blowout victories to open conference play and an exciting win over No. 14 USC.
Coach Rockwood and the Cougars were playing for the 150th victory of Rockwood's career as well as the Cougar soccer program, when the Trojans came to Provo. Once again Zwahlen came through in the clutch for the Cougars
Tied at 1-1 in the second period with time winding down, senior Terra Bigelow found Zwahlen whose shot blasted by the Trojan keeper with less than two minutes in regulation. It was Zwahlen's second game-winning shot on the year and it earned her a spot on the Soccer America Team of the Week.
BYU, now at No. 17 with an 8-3-1 record, opened up the MWC season with a 5-1 win over New Mexico and a 4-0 victory over Air Force. Senior Britney Holman earned the MWC Defensive Player of the Week honor for her role in marking and shutting down the top offensive threats for both teams.
With the wins the Cougars climbed to No. 12 in the national rankings and headed to San Diego State and Las Vegas for their third and fourth MWC games. BYU fell to the Aztecs 1-0 but gave Rockwood a victory in her 200th game by downing UNLV 3-2 in Vegas.
The Cougars went on to route Wyoming 5-1 in their second-to-last home game and tied Hawaii 2-2 in double overtime in Honolulu before returning home to play No. 14 Utah for a piece of the MWC regular season title.
The No. 16 Cougars played Utah to a 0-0 tie in regulation before the Utes gained a 1-0 edge over BYU in overtime to claim the win.
BYU and Utah meet up again in the Championship Game of the MWC Tournament after BYU defeated Air Force and New Mexico with 2-0 and 3-2 victories, respectively. In those games Ojuka pushed the Cougars through the games by notching three goals in the two games.
In the championship game, the Cougars battled through the first half to 0-0 tie with the Utes before Utah pulled ahead in the second half to defeat the Cougars 2-0.
Making the All-Tournament team from BYU were Rose, Ojuka and junior Krissa Campbell. The conference also announced it All-MWC team with Rose, Campbell and senior Jennifer Fielding earning first-team honors and Jensen and Thomas earning second-team nods.
For the seventh-consecutive year, the Cougars received an invite to the NCAA Tournament. The invite seemed to breathe new life into the Cougars as they went on to have their best showing in the tournament in school history.
Game one of the tournament pitted No. 7 Colorado with the Cougars in Salt Lake City. The lone goal in the game belonged to BYU's Terra Bigelow, who drilled the ball into the net 12 minutes into the game. The 1-0 upset victory propelled BYU to the second round.
In round two, BYU was paired with Idaho State who advanced to the second round after upsetting Utah 2-0 in the first round. Refusing to fall to the same fate, the Cougars' Campbell dominated the playing field and scored two goals in the opening period, which ended up being enough as BYU won 2-0 and advanced to the Sweet 16 for the third time in six years.
For the Round of 16, the Cougars traveled to Villanova, Pa., where BYU faced the Big East Champion No. 15 Villanova Wildcats in the first meeting between the two schools.
Despite dominating Villanova in the game and gaining a 19-9 advantage on shots, the Cougars and Wildcats played to a double-overtime tie that forced a shootout -- the first ever in the Cougars' nine-year history, whereas Villanova had won three of its last four games in penalty kicks situations.
Getting the call to keeper was junior Mandy Gott whose specialty for PKs shined through. After trading kicks at 3-3, sophomore Brooke Thulin put the Cougars up 4-3. Needing a stop to be able to advance, Gott came through by denying the Wildcats fourth attempt. With one more goal needed to clinch the win, Jensen stepped up and drilled a shot into the goal that froze the Wildcats' keeper and sent the Cougars to their first-ever Elite Eight appearance.
One week after playing on the East Coast, the Cougars returned over Thanksgiving to play No. 18 Connecticut in Storrs, Conn., for a berth into the NCAA Women's Final Four of the College Cup.
The game was played in 40 mph wind gusts on a muddy field from two-straight days of rainfall. The Cougars' stellar run in the tournament ended there in Connecticut with a tough 3-1 loss to the Huskies.
The Cougars' strong run in the postseason landed them in fifth place for the tournament and gave them their eighth-straight top-25 national ranking with a No. 14 finish.
Rose, Campbell and Jensen were honored with post-season citations for their outstanding contributions to the team's success. Rose received All-America honors from four separate organizations and was named to the NSCAA/adidas and Soccer Buzz All-West Region first teams.
Campbell and Jensen were also recognized as All-West Region third-team selections by NSCAA/adidas and Soccer Buzz also recognized Jensen by naming her a third-team Freshman All-American and a third-team All-West Region selection.
For the 2003 Cougars and their fans, the season became one filled with fun and excitement, that exceeded the hopes and expectations of all those who supported the Elite Eight team.