As the final chapter of another season has been written at South Field, the BYU Cougars coaches and players will follow the pattern they have used all year and focus on the positives as they build for the future. Even though the league record of 1-8-5 was not what the team envisioned before the season started, it also didn't reflect the incredible progress that was made throughout the year.
Coming off an appearance in the playoffs for the first time in seven years, the season started with the coaches being optimistic that they would make progress with a young team that would have to play in a tough league. Graduation and missions took its toll on the team as four seniors hung up their cleats and another top player left for his mission. The team knew that the season would require someone to pick up the vacated leadership roles and help the young players reach their potential. Garrett Gee and Jace Green were ready for the role, and relished in it.
From the first game to the last you could see the team progress as the players learned, fought through adversity, and regrouped. With losses and draws piling up in as the grueling season wore on, many teams would have crumbled and collapsed yet the Cougars continued to fight behind their leaders and continued to play with, and for, each other. Late in the season the Cougars had a number of leads that evaporated late in the game, but most teams would have given up before the ball was first kicked. Each game turned out to be a progression that led to a much different team late in the year, and a team that was in every game until the final whistle.
As to be expected some of the bright spots came from Gee and Green, however, a few other names stood out this year as they earned valuable experience moving on. Topping that list was Brendon Ottman. As the backup goalkeeper he was forced into action early and often as starting goalkeeper Jake Petersen fought a finger injury all year. In league play Ottman was credited with playing in 10 games. In those 10 games he faced 74 shots and recorded 59 saves. More important than the stats though is the fact that he earned valuable experience that will carry over into next season. A returning keeper with experience will be a great boost for a team that will be looking to buckle down on the defensive side of the ball. Dallin Cutler also shined on the field as he was second on the team in points, only behind Green, as he recorded three goals and one assists in 12 games.
Many of the players that earned time on the field will be back for a new run next year and the optimism is contagious. Although the loss of Gee, Green, Peterson, and Ariel Chavez will be felt, Coach Chris Watkins has confidence in those that return next year. Watkins mentioned a couple of players that will need to step up next year including Pedro Vasconcelos, Ethan Meyer, and returning missionary Tanner Whitworth. Vasconcelos played in 10 league games this year and led the team in shots taken. He has an uncanny ability to make individual plays and should pick up one of the vacant leadership roles. Meyer as well will be counted on to be a leader but plays much different than Vasconcelos. As a defender he didn't take one shot this last year but helped anchor the defense for almost 1000 minutes of game time. Whitworth will be back from his mission in November and so he may not have as much of a role as a vocal leader at the start but he can prove his worth on the field and lead by example. Coach Watkins mentioned that he was one of the top two players before he left on his mission and nobody will be surprised if he comes back and stakes that claim again. It doesn't hurt that he also plays in a position that may need some of the most help.
Although a tough season is now in the books, the future still looks bright for the BYU Cougars. Lessons learned in 2015 will be applied in 2016 and new leaders will be crowned. Players will have a chance to step up and take their team to new heights and with a little bit of optimism they may reach the PDL playoffs once again.