Colorado soccer coach Danny Sanchez talks to players during a spring practice Wednesday. The Buffs are working to bounce back from a disappointing 2015
Colorado soccer coach Danny Sanchez talks to players during a spring practice Wednesday. The Buffs are working to bounce back from a disappointing 2015 season. Go to BuffZone.com for more photos. (Kira Horvath / Staff Photographer)

Colorado Buffaloes soccer 2016 spring schedule

Sunday April 3: vs. Air Force, Northern Colorado (at Prentup Field)

Saturday April 9: at Denver, Colorado College (at Ciber Field, University of Denver)

Sunday April 17: vs. New Mexico (at Prentup Field)

Saturday April 23: at Nebraska (at Hibner Stadium, Nebraska)

Sunday April 24: vs. South Dakota State (at Hibner Stadium, Nebraska)

Danny Sanchez had never experienced a season quite like last fall.

A soccer coach whose upward trajectory that began with a Division II national title at Metro State a decade ago and continued by leading the University of Colorado back to the NCAA Tournament in 2013 and 2014, Sanchez had never suffered a season that could be considered a step backward until last fall.

Boasting a 7-2-1 mark after opening Pac-12 Conference play on Sept. 27 with a win against Cal, the Buffaloes unraveled over the over the second half of the season. The Buffs often couldn't get on the same page and, in turn, often couldn't score goals. Lacking the cohesiveness that could make a difference in close games, a talented CU squad went 0-8-2 in the final 10 games and fell well short of the preseason goal of reaching a third consecutive NCAA tourney.

Despite signing a decorated recruiting class, the offseason still has been turbulent for the Buffs. Leading scorer Brie Hooks, who ranked fifth all-time in the program's history in goals and also was tied for fifth in assists, opted to transfer closer to home, landing at Seattle University. And earlier this spring Brooklyn Varnadore, who showed promise while appearing in 15 games last fall as a freshman, suffered a torn knee ligament.


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Against that backdrop, the Buffs have dived into their spring practice slate with a newfound sense of purpose and team unity.

"I feel like what we had to get better at was just all us being on the same page," defender Joss Orejel said. "All of us were on different pages last year. It shows on the field. I feel this group of girls is closer and we know what we have to get done to make a comeback from last year."

On paper, Sanchez is tasked with replacing six starters. However most of those voids have already been filled. Sophomore goalie Scout Watson should slide seamlessly into the starting role vacated by Kate Scheele, and the return of senior defender Kahlia Hogg, who missed all but six games last year due to injury, should bolster a back line that was inconsistent in 2015.

Moreover, a highly regarded recruiting class that includes Kelsey Aaknes and Taylor Kornieck, both ranked as four-star recruits by Top Drawer Soccer, should help improve some of the consistency issues the Buffs suffered on the attack last fall.

"There's a fine margin between success and failure, especially in the Pac-12," Sanchez said. "We had a couple seasons that were successful, but I've told the team sometimes it's hard to get there but harder to stay. Although we were talented last year, starting even last spring I don't know if the mentality was there all the time. I think we learned that we have to be true to what we are, and I think we got away from that."

Notable

Sanchez spearheaded a rules change that will be in effect for spring games within the state, with goalies only allowed to hand-pass the ball to their teammates. The initiative is part of a concussion study and eliminates players heading balls that had been booted up to 70 yards in the air. ... Sanchez said sophomore Brittney Stark has transferred to Wyoming, where she will play alongside her sister and fellow Broomfield High product Michaela Stark. ... Amy Alexander, a freshman midfielder from Highlands Ranch who appeared in three games last fall, has left the program but remains a student at CU.

Pat Rooney: rooneyp@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/prooney07