The Buffs’ soccer head coach, Bill Hempen, says he is reveling in some of the program’s successes as Hempen enters his ninth season at CU.
One such success is the team’s home, Prentup Field. The venue now has lockers in its locker rooms, and luscious green grass surrounds the place, thus making it easy on the eyes.
But when the subject turned to star and senior, Nikki Marshall, Hempen took a deep breath and said, “Let me see here, how do I describe her?”
“Nik will leave here certainly as one of the most decorated players that we’ve ever had, but you’d be hard pressed to get her to talk about that,” Hempen said. “We talked just the other day, in practice with our kids, about our locker room. I said this locker room wasn’t built by you, it was built by the kids before you, and Nik is part of that process of building our locker room to make it as good as it is.”
Marshall, who is entering her senior year, is already the Buff’s all-time leading goal scorer. The forward has also garnered numerous accolades such as helping the United States National Team capture the Under-20 Women’s FIFA World Cup in Chile last year. She was one of only two players to participate in all six games.
Shifting her focus to her final season, Marshall will play alongside her younger sister, freshman midfielder Shayelyn Marshall. The two shared the experience previously in high school, coincidently when Nikki was a senior and Shayelyn was a freshman.
“I think it’s going to be an incredible experience,” Nikki Marshall said. “As cliché as it is, family is my backbone, really. I don’t know if you see them at the games, but they are at every game and they have their own little section.”
“I’ve mentioned it in practice the other day, actually before practice, Shaye said, ‘Our field looks so good.’ I said, ‘You have been waiting a long time to say that, haven’t you?’” Hempen said. “She’s been out there since Nik has been here — every game. And now it’s ours. It’s hers.”
It is clear that the inevitable loss of Nikki Marshall weighs heavily on Hempen, but he is seemingly undaunted by the challenge of rebuilding his squad after the departure of six seniors.
“Losing any of the six kids that we lost this year, six seniors that started pretty much most of the season, it’s going to be a very big challenge for us,” Hempen said. “Just the other day I was looking at our schedule and I went, ‘Who did that?’ Well, that was me. But we have all the big hitters on there, like we normally do, and it’s going to be a challenge for this group. Hopefully, we can find the right combination.”
Last season ended with a disappointing loss to South Dakota State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, but six consecutive appearances at the NCAA Tournament has constantly kept the Buffs’ season outlook promising.
“I think for me, especially because I wasn’t there, I was at the World Cup, it was a huge disappointment,” Marshall said. “I remember we filled out some brackets just for fun at the tournament and I put my team all the way through to the championship game and I said that we were going to win. I, with my whole heart, believed that my team could make it that far. It was pretty disappointing, I think, when I heard because I couldn’t be there and whether or not I could make a difference just killed me.”
Senior goalkeeper Kara Linder agreed with Marshall after she saw how the departed seniors reacted to the end of their careers.
“Watching how disappointed the seniors were last year after losing in the first round to South Dakota and knowing that we were going to be seniors next year definitely drove us,” Linder said. “We want to be leaders on the team and strive for more [this] year.”
Another factor in the Buffs’ ambition for the potential of continued success is the recruitment process that Hempen oversees.
“When I have kids in our office that are looking around at schools, I always ask them, ‘Give me the first five schools that you think of when you think of women’s soccer.’ Colorado is never one of those top five. And I tell them, that’s my goal, is to be one of those teams.”
Hempen explained that Marshall’s involvement in the U-20 World Cup gave Colorado valuable national exposure and recognition. He also hopes the improvements of facilities will be an attractive feature for players interested in joining.
If the facilities or successes fail to appeal to perspective players, Hempen also possesses an item very few coaches own to interest potential recruits.
“[Nikki] gave us one of her jerseys from playing in the U-20 World Cup that’s hanging in my office. It’s funny how often I refer to it. I kind of nod towards it when I’m talking to kids.”
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Esteban L. Hernandez at Esteban.Hernandez@colorado.edu.