A roller coaster ride is the best way to describe the 2002 season for the BYU softball team, the third season in the history of the program. After a Cinderella season in 2001 that saw the Cougars win the MWC title and advance to the NCAA tournament in only the second season as a sanctioned program, the Cougars struggled in the first month of play against a very tough schedule against several top 25 teams.
The Cougars went 3-1 in the opening weekend of play at the Southern Utah Tournament including a 4-1 win over 18th ranked Oregon State. All-American Oli Keohohou smashed a two-run home run, her first of the season, to lead the Cougars successful first weekend.
The Desert Breeze Classic hosted by UNLV posted the most difficult weekend of the season for the Cougars with four games against top 20 teams. BYU lost three straight games including heartbreakers to No. 18 Oregon State, whom the Cougars defeated two weeks earlier, and a 5-2 loss to No. 5 Cal-Berkeley despite a two-run home run by Keohohou.
Second-ranked UCLA defeated BYU 10-2, but the Cougars kept composure with a 9-7 win over No. 12 Nebraska, a team the Cougars lost to in the NCAAs the previous season. Junior Brooke Cadiente, sophomore transfer Kate Walker and Keohohou came through with home runs as the Cougars won their second game of the season against a top-20 opponent.
The 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City gave BYU students a full week off of classes and the team capitalized with an extended road trip to Southern California where it played seven games in four days. BYU split a double header against Loyola Marymount to give the team an even 5-5 record. BYU then played host UC Santa Barbara of the "Softball by the Beach" Invitational the next day and lost 2-4.
No. 5 Cal-Berkeley, the eventual 2002 NCAA champions, defeated the Cougars for the second time in seven days in a 1-0 heartbreaker and Sacramento State added to the woes of the team with a 4-2 defeat.
BYU responded positively to the learning experience and ended the long weekend of travel with 24 runs in two games with a 12-2 win over Providence and a 12-0 shutout of Santa Clara.
After going 7-8 in the opening month of the 2002, the Cougars turned it up a level for March starting with the Red Desert Classic hosted by the University of Utah in St. George. BYU defeated No. 12 Washington 6-4 behind two key home runs by team captain Cadiente. BYU avenged an earlier loss to UC Santa Barbara with a 4-3 win in eight innings propelled by freshman Milli Jones, who went 2-4 and provided the game-winning hit.
PAC-10 Oregon and in-state foe Utah State were the next victims of the Cougar win streak at the Utah tournament. BYU came back from a 0-7 deficit to defeat the Ducks 8-7 behind two Keohohou home runs, including the game winner in the seventh inning. Cadiente hit her eighth home run of the season and freshman Lauren Watson hit her first collegiate grand slam against Utah State as the Cougars came from behind to win 7-6 and extend the win streak to six games.
Florida was the next stop for the streaking Cougars as the played in the Speedline Invitational hosted by Florida International in Tampa. BYU continued their winning ways with a 10-8 win over Maryland from the ACC. Junior pitcher Cynthia Fallowfield was the hero of the game picking up a win on the mound and a grand slam from the plate.
The Cougar's seven game win streak was snapped by the University of Houston in a 7-4 loss despite two home runs by Keohohou and a another home run from Cadiente, who received MWC Player of the Week for her efforts the week before in St. George.
The next day, BYU lost to host Florida International 2-1 despite a home run by senior Elizabeth Boydston. Senior Liz VanderLinden nailed two RBI and freshman Niki Andersen provided a 2-0 shutout on the mound as the team rebounded to beat Michigan from the Big-10.
In their final day of the tournament, BYU won three straight games to advance to the championship round but did not advance to the next day because of the University's policy not to play on Sunday. BYU defeated Georgia State 4-3, Central Michigan 5-2, and top-25 Oklahoma State 4-3 in eight innings to finish the tournament. Senior Liz VanderLinden and sophomore Oli Keohohou were named to the Speedline Invitational All-Tournament team.
After 26 consecutive road games and tournaments that spanned from California to Florida, the Cougars opened their home season with two wins over Southern Utah. Trailing 3-2 in the bottom of the sixth inning, BYU tied the game off a Thunderbird error. Keohohou showed the home crowd why she is an All-American with a game-winning home run in the bottom of the seventh to end the game. BYU easily defeated the T-birds 10-2 in five innings in the second game led by a Cougar-record two triples from VanderLinden.
The Cougars took a six-game winning streak to No. 2 Stanford and showed the Cardinal they can compete with the best teams in the country. After a 6-3 loss, Keohohou smashed another seventh inning game-winning home run, a three run blast, to propel the Cougars to a 5-4 record against ranked opponents.
BYU had one more home stop before heading into conference play and defeated Utah State 7-1 and 9-8 in eight innings to improve to 21-11 and winning nine of the last 10.
The Cougars looked poised to capture their second straight conference crown with a sweep of UNLV in the opening day of Mountain West Conference play, but the roller coaster ride started.
In conference play the Cougars started with two wins followed by five straight losses including a 16-inning heartbreaker pitched by freshman Niki Andersen to Colorado State at home. BYU rebounded by winning a double-header to non-conference foe Utah State and to improve 10-0 all-time against the Aggies, but the Utah Utes stole the Cougar thunder with two close wins in Salt Lake.
The Cougars responded with three straight conference wins, including a 6-3 win over first-place San Diego State at home and a sweep at Colorado State to avenge the two losses suffered at Miller Park earlier in conference play.
Unfortunately, the rollercoaster ride continued with three straight losses to New Mexico, including a 4-1 loss in the opening game of the MWC Tournament hosted by BYU at Miller Park.
The Cougars responded with a 6-2 win the next day to eliminate No. 3 seed UNLV and a chance to face No. 1 seed San Diego State. Despite a grand slam by Brooke Cadiente, the 2001 MWC Tournament MVP, the Aztecs were too much to handle, as the Cougars were unable to make the final day of the MWC Tournament. Cadiente and VanderLinden were selected to the MWC All-Tournament team.
BYU finished the season with a 30-23 winning record, but ended the season in a slump and a 6-10 conference record and a 1-2 tournament record. Keohohou, VanderLinden, and senior Kari Pringle were voted All-MWC.
BYU hopes to learn from their mistakes and show more consistency in the 2003 campaign. Sophomore Oli Keohohou garnered NFCA First-Team All-America honors for the second consecutive season by leading the conference in batting average (.422), RBI (45), runs (54), walks (67), home runs (18), and slugging percentage (.891).
Nationally, Keohohou finished second in the nation in home runs per game at 0.34. Her batting average ranks her 15th in the country while her RBI per game ranks 21st. The outfielder also holds a .956 fielding percentage while playing five different positions throughout the 2002 season.
Keohohou is the first player in MWC history to be named First-Team All-American and has done it her first two seasons in Cougar uniform. Keohohou also won the Crowd-Pleaser Award given by the Cougar Club.