Men’s soccer caps successful season with Elite 8 appearance

The men’s soccer program caps an undefeated regular season with an appearance in the Elite Eight and set sights high for next year.

All eyes were on the Cougars this postseason as they entered the National Intramural and Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA) Soccer tournament as reigning champions.

Although the outcome wasn’t expected, it didn’t bring the players’ spirits down.

“We know that we have the talent and depth to win games, but we have to stay locked in mentally,” said Keone Kapisi, a senior who walked on to the team in 2016.

Since the program began, the men’s soccer team has secured eight national championships and don’t plan to lose their momentum.

Head coach Brandon Gilliam has been with the program since 2002. He played with the team for five years and worked as an assistant coach for eight more before accepting the position of head coach in 2015.

Through those 16 years, Gilliam has maintained his Cougar pride.

“Every aspect of this program strives to represent the culture and characteristics of BYU,” Gilliam said. “I want as many people as possible to see these players and what they represent.”

Although they finished the regular season undefeated, it wasn’t without its challenges.

“This season, the greatest challenge was San Diego in the Aztec Cup,” Kapisi said. “It was the first time we had trailed all season, and it took a lot of heart to stay in it and fight back.”

Senior Tanner Whitworth, current team captain, looked to a different game for growth as the season came to a close.

“Our biggest challenge this year was probably Utah State when we played them at their field,” Whitworth said. “From that game, we learned to keep ourselves calm. It doesn’t matter what the fans are screaming, what trash talk the players are spouting, or even if the referee has lost control of the game.”

As the program continues to evolve and secure more wins, the players hope for a return to the NCAA. The Cougars were dropped from the NCAA tournament in 1987 and have maintained club status at the university since.

“My personal hope is that one day the team will become an NCAA team,” Kapisi said. “I believe we have the talent, and it would be a good challenge for us and the school. I think the students would love it, too.”

Fourth year senior Christian Guthrie also hopes the program advances.

“I hope that BYU and the men’s soccer program can continue to have a healthy relationship,” Guthrie said. “Maybe one day BYU will make the program Division I so that our kids can come play. That will be a long time from now, but I think that is the ultimate goal of the program.”

As the team prepares for next year, they know that winning isn’t the only thing that will bring success and possible NCAA status.

“We have to remember who we are and what we represent,” Whitworth said. “First, we remember that we are members of the Restored Church of Jesus Christ. Second, we remind ourselves that we represent BYU. Third, we remember our brothers on the team and those who have gone before us. We stay grounded in what we represent.”

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