Provo • As BYU freshman Michele Murphy prepared for a meeting against North Carolina, she was able to step back a bit and put her experience into perspective.
"I've actually talked about this with my parents," said Murphy, who helped lead Alta High to the 5A state soccer championship a year earlier. "North Carolina coming to our field. I never dreamed this would happen.
"Coming in as freshmen, I didn't know what to expect. It's been like a dream season, especially continuing from Alta last year."
Murphy, in her first season at an elite Division I program, was second on the team with eight goals and seven assists.
Alas, BYU's date with the legendary North Carolina program and a possible Final Four spot in the NCAA College Cup was not to be. The Cougars' (20-2-2) best season came to an end in double overtime, 2-1.
And the Tar Heels did everything they could to take the quick, 5-foot-5 forward out of the game. But Murphy's experience should serve as a teaching moment.
"She's a smart player," BYU coach Jennifer Rockwood said. "We didn't know how much time she would contribute because we did have such an experienced team. But Murphy has come in from day one and has really been a spark in our attack."
Murphy certainly was a contributor in the Sweet 16 victory against Marquette. She was one of three BYU freshmen who helped beat the Golden Eagles 6-5 on penalty kicks after going scoreless through regulation and two overtimes.
"I was more nervous for the practice shootout than the actual shootout," she said.
Rockwood, never hesitant to throw a freshman into the competitive fire, knew the ceiling was high for Murphy, who was coming off a state championship season where she scored an astounding 38 goals with 22 assists.
Murphy, Paige Hunt and Marissa Nimmer continued the cycle of freshmen who have been constant contributors to BYU's 2012 season.
"The most important part of [our] program are our recruits," Rockwood said. "It's important every year that we bring in players who we think can help us out immediately. We knew Murphy was a special player."
It didn't take long for Murphy to make a statement. She scored twice in a four-minute span in a victory against Texas in early September. The same week, she also scored against then-No. 6 Penn State.
Not that there weren't moments of frustration as Murphy struggled with her expectations. There was help, though, from senior Carlee Payne Holmoe, herself a freshman sensation, with 13 goals and 10 assists.
If anything, Holmoe can offer perspective and understanding.
In the end, Murphy delights from simply playing the game, and playing it for BYU, the only school she ever really considered seriously.
"[Soccer] just makes me so happy," she said. "It's the biggest stress relief. And it's also what you can create on the field, a little art project in itself."