A look back at the 2006 season
The CU women’s soccer team enters the final weekend of Big-12 play already assured a spot in the conference tournament. It’s how they have gotten to this point that is the fun part.
On Friday, Sept. 22, the team was ranked 11th in the country and was 6-1-1 overall following a defeat of conference foe Oklahoma. Then the season took a volatile turn as the Buffs went winless in conference play over the course of the next three weeks.
During the drought, CU fell completely out of the rankings and was outscored 10-3. The slide dropped the Buffs record in conference play to 1-4-1 and put them in danger of missing the conference tournament.
The Buffs clawed their way back up the standings in the past two weeks. Following a loss to Missouri on Oct. 13, the Buffs have won three consecutive conference matches and have outscored their opponents in those three games by a combined score of five to zero. Coach Bill Hempen admits that during the rough patch in the middle of the season, the team lost a lot of confidence.
“When we lost those two games to Texas and Texas A&M at home, that just killed us. Not just the fact that we lost, but we lost more than that. We lost that confidence,” Hempen said. “Honestly, Texas A&M just didn’t beat us on Friday, but they beat us on Sunday and the next Friday because our confidence was just shattered.”
He said the team fought its way back to regain confidence and get back on the right track.
“I give the kids credit for fighting through the game at Iowa State because we probably shouldn’t have won that game, but we found a way to win and that helped,” Hempen said. “And then playing this weekend, and playing well, it gives us a chance to go in and say ‘we’re ok now.’ So that has helped us a ton.”
And there is not a better time for this team to gain its confidence back. The Buffs have one more regular season conference match at Kansas this week before the Big 12 tournament begins on Wednesday, Nov. 1. The team feels like the experience of the Big 12 regular season schedule will help them in the tournament.
“I think we started playing in the Big 12 and realized we have to come ready to play every game 110 percent,” freshman standout Nikki Marshall said. “We realized every game is do or die and you have to play it like it’s your last. We know that we have to come out ten times harder than we did before.”
If the Buffs are going to be successful come the postseason tournament in Texas, they are going to need Marshall to be at her best.
Marshall, a freshman striker from Mead, Colo., is the Buffs’ leader this season in goals (12) and points (26). Marshall’s goal numbers are four times the amount of CU’s next highest goal scorers. Coach Hempen would like to see Marshall and some of the other young players on his team become more aggressive.
“We want to play a good style of soccer, yet at some point there is no need for one more pass. It’s ‘let’s pull the trigger.’ Nikki Marshall is someone I wish would take more chances. Same goes for Alex Cousins and Katie Griffin,” Hempen said. “We went through a spell where every time we should’ve passed the ball we dribbled and every time we should’ve dribbled we passed and that’s field awareness and confidence.”
Hempen said he also believes his team’s struggles during the middle of the conference season can be attributed to defense more than anything else.
“When I get down to it we didn’t necessarily play that bad, we just gave up some very easy goals,” Hempen said. “It’s a situation where if we stick to what we’ve been trying to accomplish all year, we’ll be fine.”
Early in the season during the team’s non-conference portion of the schedule, Hempen was rotating goalkeepers regularly between freshman Kara Linder and sophomore Kirstin Radlinski. During conference play however, Hempen has mostly stuck with Radlinski, citing her experience as a key factor.
“Kirstin has been here before because this is about where she entered the season last year when Jesse Keller got hurt,” Hempen said. “She’s a little bit more hardened and prepared to play in these games right now than (Linder) is.”
Radlinski says she feels comfortable knowing she’s the starter every game.
“I absolutely love it. It definitely makes you more confident when you know that you have that position,” Radlinski said. “Just being able to play in so many more games it makes you more game-confident as opposed to just playing in practice.”
When asked what was the key to this team’s turnaround in conference play, Radlinski referenced the team’s limited number of seniors.
“We just want to play for (the seniors). You know, we want to keep them around longer because like anyone else, we don’t our career to end,” Radlinski said. So everyone just goes out with the mindset of playing for the seniors and the team. Every save I make, every tackle I make, I go and do it with the team in mind.”