SOCCER KICKS OFF SPRING AT UNLV
BOULDER- When NSCAA Central Coach and Big 12 Coach of the Year Bill Hempen entered last spring's drills, he said that his goal was to be that next team like traditional league powerhouses Texas, Texas A&M and Nebraska. He wanted to be in a position to go after the big dogs.
So after the big dogs he went, and out he and the University of Colorado soccer team came with a 15-4-1 season record, the program's first regular season conference title and national ranking, first-ever bid to an NCAA Championship as the first, first-year participant to claim one of 16 tournament seeds and sweep the league's postseason honors.
"I think that we'll have to work even harder to face up to the challenge ahead of an encore," said Hempen on his reflection of the 2003 season. "Last season is something we can't afford to dwell on . There's no exhale of relief that Colorado is a power by any means."
The Buffs have little time to reflect on their record breaking season, as they open their spring schedule at UNLV Sunday. They return to Boulder the following Saturday, March 6, to take on Northern Colorado, a team the Buffs' beat 4-0 in last season's exhibition opener and a team they will face during the regular season next year, in a 10 a.m. match on Prentup Field (with the football practice fields as a backup for inclement conditions). An annual trip to the left coast to play Loyola Marymount (March 13) and Pepperdine (March 14) will mark the final road swing before they host Denver, Air Force and the Colorado State 87 ODP team in a series of 40-minute scrimmages April 4.
"We're not just playing anyone this spring. UNLV is building, just like us. Pepperdine is a (NCAA) tournament team. Loyola Marymount was a bubble team. We'll face some challenges in our opposition this spring," said Hempen.
With that schedule looming, the Buffs have approached the spring slightly different than they have in the past. While trying to find the appropriate system in anticipation of next year's newcomers, players have been moving into different positions. Hempen says that it's another rebuilding year, "We're not rebuilding the personnel as much as the chemistry and dynamics that need to be restructured. In the meantime, we're reminding them of what it took to get this point and to show the willingness to go beyond that. Our biggest challenge this spring is getting over the WOW factor."
Going into Sunday's match, Hempen returns 14 letterwinners and 10 starters and lose starter Orly Ripmaster and fellow seniors Emily Barnes and Heather Hawkins and part-time starter Alyssa Burgess and post spring the Buffs will be without the services of back-up goalkeepers Nikki Resnick and Jeanne Rankin due to attrition.
"The good thing about Jessie is that she could compete against a wall and still compete. Not having a backup isn't an issue."
He also returns 92 percent of his offense, including co-captain Jen Thais (10 points), Big 12 Player of the Year and first-teamer Fran Munnelly (19 pts.), Rookie of the Year Katie Griffin (10 goals), all-Big 12 picks Griffin, Laura Munnelly (2 pts.), and Tricia Regan (14 shots) and All-Newcomer Team members Griffin, Kathryn Grandinetti (9 assists), Maddy Minnis (10 pts.), Laura Munnelly, and goalkeeper Jessica Keller (0.67 gaa) who will play out the spring without a gameday back-up. Hempen also added UCLA transfer Allie True (6 pts. In '02) to the roster in January.
"On paper we're going to be good all over the place again. Our defense limited our opponents goal wise last fall, but is still a weak part of the team. That aspect of our game needs to get better with the personnel that we have or look to the future, because the freshmen coming in next year will want to play."
2004 COLORADO SOCCER SPRING SCHEDULE (all times local)
Sunday, Feb. 29 at UNLV 12 p.m.
Saturday, Mar. 6 NORTHERN COLORADO 10 a.m. (Prentup Field/alt. FB Practice Fields)
Saturday, Mar. 13 at Loyola Marymount 10 a.m.
Sunday, Mar. 14 at Pepperdine 10 a.m.
Sunday, April 4 DENVER/AIR FORCE/87 ODP 10:30 a.m. (Prentup Field/alt. FB Practice Fields)
(40 minute scrimmages)