The Colorado women’s soccer team kicks off their season Thursday night against Drake in Boulder at Prentup Field. Unlike most sports, the time period between the first official practice (August 6th) and the first game (August 22nd) is only 16 days, meaning the team has just over two weeks to prepare.
Head coach Danny Sanchez said he’s eager to get started because he feels the team can be special.
“We’re excited to get going,” Sanchez said at CU’s media day in early August. “We’re excited about the group. We feel we have great senior leadership.”
Last season, Colorado began the year with a 16-game unbeaten streak- a program record. Unfortunately for the Buffs, their non-conference schedule in 2018 was relatively weak, hurting the team’s hopes of making the NCAA tournament.
Because of the weak strength of the schedule in 2018, the team wanted to make sure that wasn’t going to be an issue this year. Coach Sanchez talked about the disappointing conclusion of last season and how the Buffs will have their work cut out for them this year.
“We had a very good season last year, unfortunately, it didn’t end the way we wanted,” Sanchez said. “So, we took the doubt out of it with the strength of our schedule this year. We play the defending national champions Florida State in Tallahassee on Sept. 12th.”
In addition to the Seminoles, the Buffs will face four other NCAA tournament teams from a year ago. Colorado will host Baylor, The University of Texas, and Boston at Prentup Field, providing for a difficult schedule to say the least. Baylor went to the Elite 8 in 2018 while the Texas Longhorns reached the Sweet 16. Coach Sanchez also mentioned Boston, who secured an NCAA Tournament berth last season by winning the Patriot League. The Buffs face will face these Terriers early on Aug. 25th in Boulder. In addition, CU will make the trip to Denver and take on their rival Pioneers on Sept. 21st.
Colorado will have no shortage of senior leaders this season with four senior captains. Leading the charge will be midfielder Taylor Kornieck, goalkeeper Jalen “J.J.” Tompkins, defender Kelsey Aaknes, and forward Stephanie Zuniga. This should give Coach Sanchez some confidence despite the difficult challenges the team is likely to face throughout the season. Sanchez spoke highly of his two senior captains, Tompkins and Kornieck, and how having them gives the Buffs an opportunity in every game.
“We have, we feel, two of the top players in the country in J.J. (Tompkins) and Taylor (Kornieck),” Sanchez said. “So, that gives us a chance in every game to have an impact, so we’re excited.”
Colorado will enter the 2019 season a very balanced team because of the combination of upperclassmen and new players on the roster. This depth will be critical when the Buffs play the NCAA tournament teams from a year ago, as well as their Pac-12 foes. And no easy foes, as Sanchez believes the Pac-12 was the best conference in the country top to bottom.
Sanchez told us on media day that the freshman will play a significant role for the team and will have to be ready to play come Thursday evening.
“We’re excited, we have a lot of new players, we have nine freshman, a couple transfers, so 11 of our 25 players are new,” Sanchez said. “We don’t have time to mess around, they have to be ready to go and show what they can do. We don’t come into seasons looking to redshirt anybody, if they can play they’re going to play.”
Sanchez said the team tried not to dwell on being left out of the NCAA Tournament, but the loss, “stung” for both the players and coaches. Tompkins talked about how being left out of the tournament last year serves as tremendous motivation for the team headed into the 2019 season.
“It was definitely, probably one of the lowest points in my college career, but I just try to use it as motivation,” Tompkins said. “I think we all have.”
Tompkins went on to talk about to team’s motto for the season, which fits well with the difficult path the team will have to navigate due to the strength of schedule.
“Last year, our motto was ‘do more’ and we just didn’t do it,” Tompkins said. “(This year) my entire attitude is just to earn the right to be in the tournament, earn the right to win the game, earn it at every point. And so, I think we’ve all taken that as an entire team and used that as motivation going forward into the season.”
The Buffs have the potential to be very dangerous with a berth in the tournament because it’s a team led by multiple seniors, who have played in tough games, and 11 new players (nine freshman and two transfers), who will all see significant playing time.
The Buffs are deep enough and talented enough to be in the thick of the Pac-12 race, the question will be whether or not they are able to get through their daunting non-conference schedule. One thing is for sure, if their leaders can pave the way through a tough non-conference slate and remain contenders throughout Pac-12 play, Colorado will almost be guaranteed a spot in the tournament.