Buffs Open the Season With Denver Derby
BOULDER – Danny Sanchez and the Colorado soccer team have been rearing to go since the start of August. The Buffaloes will finally get that opportunity, opening the season against in-state rival Denver on Saturday.
Colorado was last seen walking off the field at North Carolina, closing the season with a 1-0 loss to the Tar Heels in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The wait has been more than a year in the making. 442 days come kickoff to be specific.
"It's been so long," junior captain Libby Geraghty expressed. "We cannot wait."
A lot has changed for the Buffs since last November. The Buffaloes will have to move on without two of its most visible players in program history. Gone are Taylor Kornieck and Jalen Tompkins, along with graduated seniors like Stephanie Zuniga, Kelsey Aaknes and Camilia Shymka, all key players for the Buffs in recent seasons.
"When you look at JJ, she's the best goalkeeper we've ever produced," Sanchez laminated. "From a leadership side, on and off the field there is no replacing that. But we're pleased with three goalkeepers in camp and they're competing. I suspect that competition will go on for a while.
"Taylor was arguably the best field player – our all-time leading scorer as a midfielder for our program. Not only the goals and the assists [she produced] but the defending, the winning set pieces, all the extra work that she had to do. Those aren't players you can replace 1-for-1. It must be a sum of the parts, and we do feel that we have a very deep squad this spring. There is a lot of competition. It'll be interesting to see how players step. We feel we have people in-house that can compete but really our success is going to come from players, really improving their game and stepping out of the shadow of some of these all-time Buff greats and showing what they can do."
Sophomore Tessa Barton is the team's top returning scorer. She finished second to Kornieck's 30 points with 13 of her own (5 G, 3 A). CU has 19 of its 35 goals from last season returning this spring, with Geraghty and Roo Yarnell-Williams joining Barton as the only three multi-goal scorers from a year ago.
In net, CU has a trio of players battling to fill Tompkin's shoes. Redshirt freshmen Megan Short and Emma Miller spent all last season learning and watching from the sidelines. Washington transfer Dani Hansen is the only goalkeeper with NCAA experience on the roster. She played seven matches last season for UW, starting six.
The stakes are higher than ever this season. The NCAA has cut the postseason tournament field from 64 to 48 due to COVID-19. That potentially means the Pac-12 Conference, which routinely gets eight or nine teams in the field, could be limited this season.
As far as conference projections go, the conference's coaches slated Colorado to finish eighth in Wednesday's preseason coaches poll. Stanford, UCLA, USC and Washington State make up the top-four.
"It's going to be super competitive for all the conferences around the country to get to get multiple bids," Sanchez explained. "Fortunately for us, we play in the top conference, top to bottom. Three of the four final College Cup teams from 2019 come from our conference. We're excited about the challenge. It is super competitive in our conference but what it does is it provides opportunities to build a [postseason] resume. We're excited to get into our three preseason matches, before we head to Washington on February 26, to start conference play."
Part of the excitement this season is the prospects of CU's freshman class. The Buffs will have seven new faces that will figure into the mix this season. Rachel Rosen, Filippa Graneld, Lawson Willis, Haley Harnisch, Jayden Newkirk and Shyra James have been ready to go since August. The newest addition, Jenny Beyer, joined the team from Germany in mid-January, after deferring her enrollment.
"The freshmen have really done a great job since they've been here," Sanchez noted. "The fall was start and stop, but they've been rewarded with an opportunity to play this spring and get a good season in. We feel we have some freshmen that can really help the squad this spring."
Due to the change in season from fall to spring, the Buffs will play the early portion of the schedule at Kittredge Field. It will be just the third home for CU soccer, joining Pleasant View Soccer Complex and Prentup Field. Another variable that might be in play is the unpredictable Colorado weather. CU is used to the occasional snow game in October or November, but now it might be more of a constant this season.
"We all know Colorado weather can be all over the place, especially this time of year," Sanchez joked. "I think the mentality of the team is they're just happy to be able to play. So if we're playing and it's 65 and sunny like today, that's great. If it's 25 and snowing I really don't think it will affect us.
"Rain, snow, or shine, the Buffs will be playing."
Saturday's kickoff is set for noon. The game will be streamed online at CUBuffs.com/WatchSoc. At this time, fans are not permitted.