On the one hand, the Colorado women's soccer team enters its biggest match of the season having been properly battle-tested by some of the nation's top programs.
However, those results didn't go so well for the Buffaloes. It's a trend the Buffs will have to reverse if they want to continue advancing in the NCAA Tournament, as CU visits North Carolina in a second-round match on Friday (3 p.m. MST).
North Carolina is one of the four No. 1 seeds in the tournament, and the program has collected 21 NCAA titles.
"I think if you're from a smaller conference and you're playing a team like this that you haven't seen all year, I think maybe there's a little more hesitation going into the match," CU coach Danny Sanchez said. "But we feel like we play in the top conference in the country. We see very good teams along the way. I don't know that we'll see anything we haven't seen. Now, we didn't see the results against those teams this year. But we thought for stretches we played pretty well."
CU went 0-4 against ranked opponents, losing to those teams by a total of 8-0. That ledger doesn't include a 3-0 loss on Sept. 8 at Texas, which was unranked at the time but ultimately spent much of the season ranked among the nation's top 15.
The Buffs countered those setbacks by closing the regular season a five-game unbeaten mark (4-0-1) to secure the program's fourth NCAA Tournament bid in five seasons. CU extended that streak with a 2-1 win Sunday in a first-round match against the University of Denver.
"I think the first year, 2013, there was a feeling of just being happy to be there," Sanchez said. "We won a couple games and carried that excitement or the momentum of it. Since then, I've always felt confident going into it. I don't think our preparation this week has been any different than opening weekend in the Colorado Cup — rest, recovery, and training.
"Obviously you tweak things at the end of the season, but in the big picture we try to stay pretty consistent. We don't try to reinvent the wheel."
North Carolina reached the Final Four last year and defeated High Point 3-0 in the first round. The Tar Heels (16-2-2) won the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament and enters the match with a 14-game unbeaten streak (12-0-2).
"We know we're going to have to put on an extraordinary performance on Friday to get a result," Sanchez said. "But we've shown in stretches we're capable of it. Hopefully we can put it all together. We're going to need to keep the ball and play out of pressure, and take some chances."
The winner will play either North Carolina State or Princeton on Sunday at UNC.