It remains to be seen which player, or players, will step up to support midfielder Taylor Kornieck in the goal-scoring department this season.
However, if that project remains somewhat of a work-in-progress through the season's first few games for the Colorado women's soccer team, it shouldn't sound alarm bells for head coach Danny Sanchez. At the other end of the field, a veteran Buffs defense probably is going to be difficult to score upon.
With one week remaining until CU begins its quest for a fourth NCAA Tournament appearance in five seasons at Colorado State (5 p.m., Aug. 19), Sanchez understands the few question marks surrounding his team will be offset by a defense that returns a goalie in Jalen Tompkins who was named to the Pac-12 Conference All-Freshman Team along with four defenders that coalesced into a stingy unit in 2016.
"We feel pretty good about our options," Sanchez said. "We'll continue to work over the next week before that first game as far as finding that cohesive unit, but we have some options for sure."
Tompkins took over a job in goal that began as a preseason competition with Scout Watson, finishing with 15-5-1 record and a save percentage of .855 that was only a few decimals short of matching CU's single-season record. However, Tompkins had plenty of help from a four-player defensive line that weathered a few injury issues to become one of the strengths of a team that finished in a second-place in the Pac-12 before reaching the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Expect the primary defenders during next week's opener against the Rams to be senior Joss Orejel, junior Alex Vidger, sophomore Kelsey Aaknes, and junior Erin Greening.
Despite missing time with a knee injury last year, Orejel remains the most experienced member of the bunch. She started 12 games in 2016 (playing in 17 total) and has appeared in 48 games during her career. Vidger and Greening made similar adjustments last year, spending their 2015 freshman seasons at the midfield before making the move to defense. Both players excelled in their new roles, with Vidger making 15 starts and Greening starting all 22 games on the outside.
Aaknes, just a freshman last season, came on strong as the year progressed, ultimately making 17 starts. As a unit, the 0.88 goals-against average posted by CU's defenders was the fifth-best single-season mark in the program's history.
"Everyone that is here and returns started a lot of minutes or started," Orejel said. "I feel like it's definitely an advantage having people back and not losing our whole back line. I know everyone on this team has one goal to do our very best. Everyone is going to do everything they can to keep the ball out of the net."
If injuries do chip away at the Buffs' stellar back line, Sanchez said he believes senior Courtney Fedor and freshman Hannah Cardenas will provide adequate depth to the unit.
"This year I definitely have more confidence going into it. I feel really confident in our back line," Tompkins said. "We have a lot of returning players, which is really great. We're coming into the season with confidence knowing we all can play at this level. That's something I try to help everybody realize as well."
Prentup bag policy
This year, the women's soccer games at Prentup Field will feature the same clear bag policy for fans already in place at Folsom Field and the Coors Events Center. Fans can enter with a clear plastic, vinyl, or PVC bag that does not exceed the dimensions of 12 x 6 x 12 inches. A full rundown of CU's clear bag policy can be found here.