PROVO — In case you didn’t think Thursday’s 1-0 last-second victory over Auburn in the Sweet 16 was dramatic enough, BYU's women’s soccer team was taken to the brink by No. 4 seed Marquette in a game for the ages Saturday night.
In the end sophomore Kayla Varner made good on BYU’s eighth penalty-kick attempt in a shootout to send the top-seeded Cougars to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament.
After seeing a couple of penalty-kick attempts go high, including Marquette’s just prior to hers, Varner had one prevailing thought: keep it low and in the corner. The young sophomore did just that and BYU won out by a 6-5 margin in the shootout following a scoreless tie through regulation and two overtime periods.
“This was a huge game. It was a battle and there was obviously a ton of emotion for both teams,” said BYU coach Jennifer Rockwood. “I thought the girls just stood in there and weathered the storm and we came away with the win.”
The Cougars started off the game with a barrage of scoring opportunities and ended the opening half with 12 shots on goal to Marquette’s five. But the Cougars had no goals to show for their dominance. The Golden Eagles stepped up their game in the second half and drew even on shots on goal at eight apiece, but like the Cougars, provided no goals.
The regulation and two overtime periods saw the type of physical play and intensity one would expect in a Sweet 16 matchup. Neither team was willing to back down and play got a bit chippy as a result.
“At a level like this of course it’s going to be physical,” said defender Lindsi L. Cutshall. “We felt like everything was on the line in this game. (Physical play) happens, but we can push through anything and I don’t think we let it affect us.”
Cutshall, who is generally considered BYU’s best player, has many remarkable outings in her career, but none as good as this one, according to Rockwood. The veteran senior turned back Marquette scoring opportunities time and again — providing her team with ample scoring opportunities throughout.
In the end, however, Cutshall could not help directly determine the outcome as she didn't participate in the shootout.
“I knew we were going to win the game,” Cutshall said about putting the game in the hands of her teammates. “I watch my teammates practice these PKs every day and place them where they want to, so I knew they were going to get the job done out there and I just needed to cheer for them and let them know that I was confident in their (abilities.)”
Saturday's shootout started badly for the Cougars with senior Carlee Payne-Holmoe missing on the team’s very first attempt. Following a save by BYU goalkeeper Erica Owens on Marquette’s third try the Cougars stayed alive and finally found an opening after Marquette’s Megan Jaskowiak had her attempt go over the crossbar on what proved to be her team's final attempt.
Varner then calmly put her attempt just to the right of Marquette goalie Amanda Engel to clinch the victory and send BYU to a Friday matchup at home against either Baylor or North Carolina.
“I think, for me, the most exciting part about that was I got to keep the seniors going,” said the young sophomore about her game-winning kick. “We now get to go to the Elite Eight, so I’m happy about it.”