A few years ago, a Church member from Utah was visiting the Peruvian city of Ayacucho. He was tired after a busy day, so he settled into his hotel room chair, put his feet up and switched on the room’s tiny television.
He flipped through a few local channels before making a pleasant, entirely unexpected discovery: a BYU women’s soccer game against Idaho State University. The match was broadcast on BYUtv International, featured play-by-play entirely in Spanish and served as a reminder of the global popularity and reach of BYU sports.
Brigham Young University is — like the school’s owner — a truly international institution, with a vast base of supporters and alums. Cougar fans expect their teams to compete at a high level, even as they positively represent the school and the Church.
The school’s athletic department would expect no less. Its own mission statement includes the charge to “build a distinctive, exceptional athletic program that is fully aligned with the mission and values of Brigham Young University and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
Each of the school’s 21 varsity sports is built on a trio of “program pillars” that include developing student-athletes into leaders; living faith-based values of morality, charity and honor; and, yes, winning at the conference and national level, while displaying world-class sportsmanship.
LaRae Wilson is a BYU alum and a deep-blue Cougar fan. She appreciates her alma mater’s commitment to putting quality, entertaining products on the field, court or diamond without compromising the standards demanded of every BYU student and faculty member.
“I appreciate that the school’s [sports teams] embrace the school’s values — it makes a difference,” said Sister Wilson, who chairs BYU’s alumni chapter in Reno, Nev.
A few weeks ago, she and hundreds of other Reno-area Latter-day Saints cheered the visiting Cougar football team on to a Nov. 30 victory over the University of Nevada. Sister Wilson was thrilled watching her team win on the gridiron — but she was edified by what she heard the night before at a team-sponsored devotional at the Reno Nevada Stake Center.
“Coach [Bronco] Mendenhall said it was important for the team to play well — but he also spoke about the importance of this opportunity for the team to share their thoughts on the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The BYU football team has been holding regular devotionals during the season for almost a decade. Such gatherings, said Coach Mendenhall “are a way for all of us to help consider our priorities through understanding the purpose of life.”
The Cougars were expected to hold another devotional prior to their appearance in the Dec. 27 Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco, Calif., against the University of Washington. (The Church News went to press before that devotional and game.) The team finished the 2013 season with a record of 8-4, including memorable wins against nationally ranked Texas and regional power Boise State.
Here are a few other BYU sports highlights from 2013. From the BYU men’s teams:
• Under new head coach Mike Littlewood, the BYU baseball team returned to its winning ways in 2013 with a 32-21 record.
• The BYU men’s basketball team finished the 2012-2013 season with another 20-plus-win season (24-12) and advanced to the semifinals of the National Invitational Tournament in New York’s storied Madison Square Garden.
Tyler Haws, a returned missionary, led the team in scoring, averaging 21.7 points per game. The versatile wing player also played for Team USA at last summer’s World University Games. There he spoke about his missionary service in the Philippines.
“I felt I learned a lot of leadership skills and lots of people skills that help in every aspect of your life,” he told USA Basketball. “I saw lots of people being converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ; seeing their lives change. It was awesome.”
At press time, the Cougars had an 8-5 record for the early 2014 campaign, with highlight wins against Texas and Stanford.
• The men’s cross-country team enjoyed a stellar 2013 season, placing fourth in the NCAA national championships.
“When you go out and represent something as well as you’ve done, you’re representing something much bigger,” BYU President Cecil O. Samuelson said of the team’s success.
Returned missionary harriers Tyler Thatcher and Jared Ward were each named All-Americans.
• This year’s BYU’s men’s golf team returned to the NCAA regionals for the first time in three years. Zac Blair won two tournaments.
• The Cougars men’s tennis team enjoyed its fourth consecutive undefeated season in regional play and earned a bid to the NCAA national tournament.
• The men’s volleyball team has long been a national power. The 2013 season was highlighted by a trip to the national championship game, where the Cougars lost in three sets to UC Irvine. Taylor Sander, Ben Patch and Russ Lavaja were all named All-Americans.
And from the BYU women’s teams:
• The women’s basketball team compiled a 23-11 record for the 2012-2013 season and once again made a postseason appearance. This 2013-2014 team is off to a strong start. The Cougars were 9-1 at press time.
• Some thought the 2013 BYU women’s soccer team would face a rebuilding year after the team lost several key players from the talented 2012 squad that reached the NCAA’s Elite Eight.
Instead, the team defied predictions, winning its second consecutive West Coast Conference championship, making an encore appearance in the NCAA tournament and a top-25 national ranking. Midfielder Cloee Colohan earned third team All-America honors.
• The softball team earned its ninth straight postseason tournament appearance after claiming the Pacific Coast Softball Conference championship. Infielder JC Clayton’s stellar play secured her a spot on the All-America team.
• Cougar distance runner Kelsey Brown earned second team All-America status following elite-level performances in the 800-meter run.
• BYU’s women’s volleyball team reached the NCAA regional semifinals in 2013 following a 24 win season that saw sophomore outside hitter Alexa Gray lauded with All-America honors.