It has been 442 days since the University of Colorado women’s soccer team played an official game. To put that number into perspective, the famed Empire State Building in New York City took only 410 days to build. In the time between Colorado’s 1-0 loss to the University of North Carolina in the NCAA tournament on Nov. 22, 2019, and Saturday’s home game against Denver, a 102-story skyscraper could have been built; it has been that long of a wait.
After such a long break, CU has changed quite significantly since the last time they were on the pitch. Head coach Danny Sanchez will be missing the presence of stars Taylor Kornieck and Jalen (JJ) Tompkins. Kornieck, who was the third overall pick in the 2020 National Women’s Soccer League draft, graduated last spring as the team’s all-time point leader. In Tompkins, who also graduated last year, the team will be losing possibly the best goalie in program history. That being said, the shelves are far from depleted for the Buffs heading into this season. This year’s team features a returning cast supplemented by talented transfers and new faces.
A big question this season is who will fill the sizable scoring hole that Kornieck left behind. No one player is going to replace Kornieck, however, the Buffs have several options that will collectively work to replace her production. Two notable scoring options are a pair of returning sophomores: forward Tessa Barton and midfielder Roo Yarnell-Williams, both of whom had a strong freshman season. Barton, a graduate of Columbine High School in Littleton, was second on the team in points scored with 13 and was named the team’s Newcomer of the Year. Although Yarnell-Williams was limited to 11 games last season after suffering an injury, she made the most of her opportunities scoring four goals and eight points total. Another strong scoring threat expects to be junior forward Libby Geraghty. Geraghty put together a solid sophomore campaign last season with four goals in seven starts. Outside of those three, no other returning players scored more than one goal last season.
On the other side of the ball, CU is bringing back a handful of experienced defenders. Three of the team’s four captains are defenders including senior Gabbi Chappa, junior Sofia Weiner and junior Hannah Sharts. Both Sharts and Chappa played in all 22 games last season and were key parts of a defense that made it to the NCAA tournament. Weiner was sidelined with an injury for the first half of last season but returned to start in 11 games and assist the team in several shutout performances. The other returning defender is sophomore Alyssa Duke, who saw limited action during her freshman season.
With the Buffs’ need to replace the production of Kornieck, senior transfer Shanade Hopcroft could be another prominent option to fill that scoring role. Hopcroft, who hails from England, is coming off an impressive season with the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs in which she led UCCS with 38 points, 13 goals, and 12 assists. As a result of her performance, Hopcroft was named to the Division II All America First Team in addition to earning the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Player of the Year.
The Goalie Competition
Another interesting storyline for the 2021 season is who will replace the team’s all-time best goalkeeper. Currently, the Buffs have three goalies on the roster with freshman Megan Short, freshman Emma Miller and sophomore Dani Hansen. Both Short and Miller redshirted last season, while Hansen is a redshirt sophomore who transferred from the University of Washington. As of now, the competition for starting goalkeeper expects to be wide open and will continue to be a battle throughout the season. Hansen may have an advantage with her experience in Washington, playing in seven games last season with a .739 save percentage.
With the schedule moved from the fall to the spring due to COVID-19, this year’s schedule is drastically different from the standard year. In a normal season, the Buffs typically play over 20 games, this season that number has been cut to just 16. Add in the fact that the NCAA has slashed the number of teams that qualify for the NCAA tournament from 64 to 48 due to COVID-19, every game is critical for CU’s postseason dreams. If this year’s team wants to make the tournament, they will have to perform well in a Pac-12 conference packed with talent. The Pac-12 featured three teams (Stanford, UCLA and Washington State) that made it to the NCAA Final Four in 2019. With that in mind, here are some key games to watch:
University of Washington (Feb. 26 and 28): The Buffs open up Pac-12 play with back-to-back road games against the Huskies. These games will be the first real test for the Buffs and will help CU establish its personnel.
UCLA and USC (March 12 and 14): Any chances of CU making the tournament this season is likely dependent on a win against a topflight Pac-12 program. If the Buffs can find a way to split this home series, they will be in great shape. A home series split is easier said than done though as the last time CU beat USC or UCLA was 2016.
Utah (April 16): What better way to close out the season than a game against a mountain state Pac-12 rival?
Contact CU Independent staff writer Matthew Lenneman at firstname.lastname@example.org.