Looking down the barrel, the University of Colorado women’s soccer team faces a challenging test this Friday, Sept. 22.
The 6-1-1 Buffs play host to the No. 1 team in the country, the UCLA Bruins. The game kicks off at 3:30 p.m. MDT at Prentup Field in Boulder.
The undefeated Bruins scored 17 goals in their first four regular season contests and have not allowed more than two goals in a game thus far.
But standing in the way of UCLA is Colorado, which has been stellar defensively, on the field and in the net. CU redshirt sophomore goaltender Jalen Tompkins only recently allowed her first goals of the season, nearly a month into the season.
Tompkins currently boasts a 0.32 goals against average for the season. All signs point to her building off her 2016 freshman campaign, during which she led the Pac-12 Conference in saves per game. Last year she had seven shutouts in net. So far this season, she’s already up to three.
“We have a really strong defense,” Tompkins said. “We have a lot of depth in the back and I have a lot more confidence this year. Getting a whole year of Pac-12 play under my belt really just helped me.”
As if having Tompkins in net wasn’t enough of an advantage, the Buffaloes also know they can rely on junior goaltender Scout Watson.
Confidence in both goalies was evident in CU’s 6-1 bashing of the Denver Pioneers last Saturday. With the Buffs up just 1-0 heading into the second half, head coach Danny Sanchez swapped Tompkins, who had started the game, with Watson for the final 45 minutes.
“We feel we have two big time goalkeepers,” Sanchez said. “It’s a game by game and half by half situation, but being up 1-0 in the last game before conference play, we wanted to get them both in and we did.”
In addition to defensive strength, the immediate takeaway from Saturday’s win is the plethora of goals scored. After managing just five goals in its last four games heading into the matchup with DU, the offensive eruption over the weekend should give fans a renewed sense of confidence regarding Colorado’s potential for scoring.
The struggle to get balls in the net in the beginning of this season reflects how the team had to adjust to playing without the services of graduated seniors Emily Bruder and Danica Evans, two team leaders and key components of Colorado’s offense.
Despite the loss of these players, the Buffaloes have not missed a beat. Sophomore standout midfielder Taylor Kornieck continues to play at a high level and others have stepped up to help solidify the Buffs’ methods of operation.
Sophomore forward Tatum Barton, who transferred to CU after playing for the Texas Tech Red Raiders last year, has been a spark to the offense.
Though she has only started in four games, with four goals under her belt Barton is tied for second on the team. She was also responsible for the Buffaloes’ first two goals against Denver.
Junior midfielder Megan Massey has also been a standout player on the offensive side of the field. Though she was one of just six Buffaloes to start all 22 games in 2016, she did not record a point last season. However, roughly a month in the 2017 campaign she’s contributed a goal and four assists to the Buffs’ cause.
Massey set up Barton’s opening goal 89 seconds into the game with Denver and later fed the ball to forward Katie Joella in the second half, aiding the freshman from Highlands Ranch, Colo. in netting her first collegiate goal.
“I think we’ve been doing a good job scoring goals but we definitely need to keep up the communication from the back to the forwards,” Massey said.
Communication was key for Colorado in its recent victory over the Pioneers. No player embodied the link between the backfield to the offense better than senior defender Joss Orejel.
Orejel has embodied the Energizer Bunny for CU this season. She’s adept at pushing the tempo of games and has been instrumental in making teams uncomfortable by establishing the Buffs in the offensive zone.
“We tried to focus more on connecting the ball rather than just booting it forward,” she said after the win in Denver. “We wanted to settle it down and make sure that we were playing real soccer rather than just having our forwards run.”
Like Massey, Orejel’s offensive output increased significantly this season. Heading into Friday’s game vs. UCLA, Orejel’s one goal and four assists have already tied her career high in points, which she set in 2015 as a sophomore.
This Friday the Buffs will need to contain the Bruins’ lethal forward Hailie Mace, who already scored six goals this season. Her 604 minutes of game play tops all other UCLA forwards.
With the No. 1 team in the country preparing to travel to Boulder, it seems that the Buffs picked an ideal time to register six goals in a game.
“[The win at Denver] definitely helped us,” Orejel said. “We’re in a good spot right now.”
Contact CU Independent Head Sports Editor Justin Guerriero at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @TheHungry_Hippo