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Provo • When BYU women's soccer star Michele Murphy suffered a devastating knee injury against LSU the third game into what was supposed to be her sophomore season, Cougars coach Jennifer Rockwood fought through the disappointment by looking into the future.
'Well, at least we will get her one extra year,' Rockwood thought to herself, knowing from personal experience that former players who were able to overcome anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) surgery ended up having their best seasons in their fifth year.
That extra year is finally here for the former Alta High standout and 2011-12 Gatorade Utah High School Girls Soccer Player of the Year who is now known as Michele Vasconcelos, having married BYU men's soccer player Pedro Vasconcelos in 2014.
And she's making Rockwood's premonition come true.
Vasconcelos, who was moved from midfielder to forward at the start of the season to give the Cougars more scoring punch, has scored six goals in BYU's last five games, and is a big reason why the No. 4-ranked Cougars (7-1-0) are considered one of the best women's soccer teams in the country.
The first NCAA Rating Percentage Index (RPI) of 2016 was released Monday, and BYU is No. 2, behind only No. 1 Stanford (7-0-1). Having already defeated the Pac-12's Washington State, defending NCAA champion Penn State, No. 19 Ohio State and rival Utah on the road this season, the Cougars wrap up the nonconference portion of their schedule this weekend with matches at South Field against Denver (Thursday, 7 p.m.) and Long Beach State (Saturday, 8 p.m.).
"Michele brings so much to the program," Rockwood said. "She is clearly playing the best soccer that she's ever played. She brings phenomenal consistency, and the work rate she has is second to none."
Still called "Murph" by her teammates and coaches although she married a Brazilian whose passion for soccer is even greater than hers, she says, the fifth-year senior made it a goal to "not hold anything back" in her final season in Provo.
"I feel like my freshman year I came in and had the same sort of attitude," she said. "I don't know if it was because of my ACL or what, but those last two years I was just content with laying low. This year, I want to help the team as much as I can and make a difference before I leave."
She's well on her way to doing that.
The West Coast Conference Player of the Week for Sept. 12, Vasconcelos has six goals and three assists, second in goals to fellow senior Ashley Hatch, who has 10, and third in assists behind only Hatch (four) and fellow forward Nadia Gomes (six).
"I love playing forward," she said. "I feel like I take on a different role when I play forward. In the midfield, I take on a passing, combining role, which is great. But as a forward I am looking more to go to the goal and help my teammates as well."
Vasconcelos had no choice but to play soccer from the time she could walk. Her three siblings Nate, Shawn and Jessica were already between the ages of 16 and 12 when she was born to Jack and Ranae Murphy 22 years ago.
"Literally, we were always playing soccer," she said. "Even in the house, and obviously they pushed me because they were older, stronger and faster, so that really helped me at a young age."
She met Pedro at his teammates' wedding, even though he initially asked for her brother's cell phone number, instead of hers, because he also spoke Portugese.
"That was the running joke, that he got my brother's number so he could ask him out," Michele said. "But yeah, he chased me for a year and a half, because I was kind of stubborn and wouldn't come around. Then I finally fell for him. It's been awesome."
So has her college career, which she hopes ends with a long run in the NCAA Tournament. After that, Vasconcelos would like to give professional soccer a try.
"I was kind of on the fence about it, but my husband is encouraging me to do it. With him on my side, I thought, 'yeah, I can totally do this,'" she said. "I would love to play pro soccer for a couple years."
BYU women's soccer
Final nonconference matches
At South Field, Provo
Thursday • BYU vs. Denver, 7 p.m.
TV • TheW.tv
Saturday • BYU vs. Long Beach State, 8 p.m.
BYU's Michele Murphy Vasconcelos
• Gatorade Utah Girls Soccer Player of the Year in 2011-12 at Sandy's Alta High
• Named the WCC Freshman of the Year in 2012 and to the TopDrawerSoccer.com All-Freshman First Team
• Suffered an ACL injury in 2013 and received an NCAA medical hardship redshirt
• Named All-WCC First Team in 2014 and 2015
• Has scored six goals in last five games this season for No. 4-ranked Cougars