During his first two seasons as the head coach of the Colorado soccer team, Danny Sanchez never worried too much about the goalkeeper position.
Annie Brunner held that spot throughout the past two years, and really for much of the past four. After placing her name throughout the CU record book, however, Brunner has graduated.
Now, Sanchez and goalkeeper coach Jason Green find themselves looking for someone new in net.
"We'll have competition everywhere, but I think goalkeeper will be the most hotly contested position," said Sanchez, whose team went 14-7-2 last year, while advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Junior transfer Kate Scheele, sophomore Kenzie Tillitt and freshman Scout Watson will all battle for the task of replacing Brunner, who went 33-33-10 during her career, while posting the second-most shutouts (23.1) in CU history.
"It's one thing to replace Brunner as a goalkeeper, but it's going to be big to replace her just as a personality and a teammate," said Tillitt, who is the only keeper on the roster who has played in a CU uniform.
Brunner played 2,111 minutes a year ago, while the 5-foot-5 Tillitt played in just 24:36, without seeing a shot. Tillitt did play every minute in net during the spring, however, as she was the only keeper on the roster.
"It was a little difficult being the only goalkeeper, because it's nice to have competition sometimes," she said. "It pushes you. But it was also a perfect opportunity for me to get my way in with the team, get comfortable leading back there behind the (defenders). I'm really grateful for being able to have the opportunity and time to play with the team. I just feel a lot more comfortable now in my position."
Scheele has, by far, the most college experience. The 5-8 junior started all 22 games at Colorado College last year, and made 10 starts in 2012. She posted a 15-4-3 record last year, with 13 shutouts, in helping the Tigers get to the NCAA Tournament.
Scheele never felt comfortable at CC, though, and loved CU when she and the Tigers played in Boulder on Aug. 25, 2013.
"It just seemed like the right place for me," she said.
Although she gave up a starting job for a great team, Scheele said she's looking forward to competing with Tillitt and Watson.
"Coming in here and having to fight for that spot kind of renewed my ambitions for soccer and really has helped me," she said. "I'm biting at the bit to get back out there and prove myself. As a goalkeeper, that's a big part of it is proving yourself and getting that respect from your teammates."
While Tillitt and Scheele clearly have more experience than Watson, the 5-7 freshman isn't conceding anything to her fellow keepers.
"I'm very confident," she said. "Confidence is a huge thing for me. I'm going to work my hardest and whatever happens happens."
Having an open competition this season played a big role in Watson signing with CU, she said, although she was expecting it to be a two-player battle with her and Tillitt.
Nevertheless, Watson said she's aiming for the starting job, just as the other two are doing.
As far as Sanchez is concerned, the competition can only make the keepers — and the Buffs — better.
"It was a clear cut starter the last two years," he said. "What's exciting about this year, for us, is we feel we have three goalkeepers that are capable of starting, and it's definitely our deepest group of goalkeepers.
"Hopefully someone early in preseason will establish themselves, but I could see this competition going into the season. You want them to have confidence, you want them to not be afraid, but you also want them to be sharp and continue to work hard."