Soccer Goes 3-0-2 During Spring Schedule
BOULDER - With wins over defending Division II National Champions Metro State (2-0), Wyoming (2-0) and Northern Colorado (1-0) and ties at Denver (1-1) and at Regis (2-2), the University of Colorado soccer team closed out its spring schedule Saturday with a 3-0-2 mark.
Despite an offseason hampered by injuries and rehabilitation to starters Jessica Keller (left shoulder labral), Kathryn Grandinetti (ACL), Allison Kidd (ACL) and Allie True (ACL), graduation and attrition, head coach Bill Hempen had some good news to report about his fourth spring in Boulder that left him with just a single reserve on the bench.
"The good news is that everyone got to play. It was a great evaluation time for me as a coach," Hempen explained. "The better news is that every one of those kids will be ready to go in the fall." The only question mark is Allie (True) who didn't have surgery until April and is looking at a late September return. But (assistant athletic trainer) Wendy (Veatch) has a great history of getting kids back and ready to go."
Despite the injuries and numbers, Hempen took a traditional approach to spring drills, "I don't think you can change what you do. Your expectations and aspirations have to stay the same. You can't coach down when expectations are so high. Preparing to play, in essence the toughest schedule we've ever had, and not prepare the way we have in years past would be an injustice."
The change in personnel gave Hempen the opportunity to change his style and see some players rise to the occassion. Traditionally a 4-3-3 team, the Buffs played 4-4-2 and 3-5-2 lineups for new looks. Outside backs Darci Smerchek and Brittany Dornseif made some moves into the midfield to gain some experience and a greater comfort level in the attacking part of the field. After what Hempen thought was an average fall, he felt Katie Griffin looked good and really made a difference in the spring. Backup Allison Eckenhoff made great strides as a goalkeeper. According to Hempen, from day one of last fall to Saturday's final game (her fifth start and complete game), she became a much better and confident goalkeeper in herself and her ability.
What Hempen is still in search of is that right leader, "Not necessarily the most popular one, but the right one on what will be a senior-laden team."
The Buffs will be fortunate to return all but one starter for a second straight season. But that one starter, 2004 second-team all-Big 12 pick Jen Thais, was Hempen's first step in reigniting the Colorado Soccer program back in 2001. Thais closed out her career ranked in the top-10 of seven career charts including goals, assists, points, shots, shots on goal, games played and started. The Buffs also lose seniors Ms. Everything Ellen Falender and Shannon Kellogg.
Colorado's 13 returning letterwinners will be joined by February recruits Nikki Keller (Arvada), Caitlin Marquis (Boulder), Alexis Cousins (Fort Collins, Colo.), Kirstin Radlinski (Placentia, Calif.) and Michelle Wenino (Centennial, Colo.).
"This class is the next step. They will have to be ready to play now. They're not going to be groomed for two years from now. When this year's seniors step off the field next November, they will ready to go."
The thought of next year's senior class stepping off the field for the last time is a daunting one. All-American and three-time first-team All-Big 12 midfielder Fran Munnelly, Ashlie Mihalcin, Grandinetti, Tricia Regan and Keller are all career starters while Darci Smercheck has been on the pitch for the start of 39 of 57 career matches. Since their arrival in 2002 and transfers '03, this class has gone 40-18-5, won the 2003 Big 12 regular season title and has played in the program's first two NCAA Tournaments.
"Those are the kids that put their faith in me and in CU," said Hempen of his first recruiting class. "When they walk off, I want them to say that was a great experience."
Hempen has spent this spring getting players prepared and groomed for a schedule that has grown with the program, against some of the toughest teams in the country.
Hempen's fifth team will need to be prepared for what he feels is the toughest in the program's decade of existence. The Buffs open against Vanderbilt at home on August 26th then travel to Topeka, Kan. to take on a storied North Carolina team two days later. Six teams on next year's slate, including UNC and national runner-up UCLA, Nebraska, Texas, Kansas and Texas A&M played in last year's tournament with just two calling the second round the season's end. Combined next year's schedule went 226-173-30 (.546).
"I always take the approach that how they got here (in the fall) is how they prepared in the spring."