Danny Sanchez hasn't forgotten how his Colorado Buffaloes women's soccer team started the 2016 season in a hostile environment.
It isn't a pleasant memory.
A year ago the Buffs began the 2015 slate at Colorado State by surrendering an early goal, forcing CU to play from behind in a match they eventually tied. While it's a stretch to say the performance set the tone for a disappointing season — the Buffs did forge a 6-2-2 start before going 0-8-2 down the stretch to fall short of a third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance — the shaky start nonetheless was the first sign of the inconsistent play that would plague the team throughout the fall.
With last year's late swoon squarely behind them, the Buffs will look to set a more positive tone for the 2016 campaign on Friday night in the season opener at Air Force (6 p.m.).
"We went down early in the first game at CSU on the road with a good crowd, just like it's going to be on Friday," said Sanchez, who begins his fifth season as the Buffs' leader. "We really want to come out fast and let the game play itself out, and not chase the game. We all remember the first 10 minutes of the first game last year, and that set a tone. We didn't start well, and then we were chasing."
One of the Buffs' critical dynamics set to unfold Friday and in Sunday's home opener against Colorado State is who will step to the forefront of CU's attack. The Buffs' scored only 24 goals in 20 games last year, and between graduations and the transfer of co-leading goal-scorer Brie Hooks the Buffs lost half of that total from the roster.
Sanchez repeatedly has expressed faith that senior Danica Evans will emerge as an offensive leader. She shared the team lead with five goals last year, though she scored just two in league play.
"I have my goals set, and I'm excited and hoping to achieve them all," Evans said. "I want to lead the team again and hoping to lead the Pac-12. I just want to be the best I can be and help this team."
The Buffs will be replacing six regular starters and rotation players from 2015, while also welcoming a decorated freshman class expected to contribute immediately, yet Sanchez said he does not expect to tinker with the lineup at the outset of the season. He did not disclose whether Scout Watson or redshirt freshman Jalen Tompkins would start in goal, but did indicate it was likely one would start against the Falcons while the other gets the nod Sunday against CSU (3 p.m., Prentup Field).
"I think everyone's excited to get this first game going because we didn't have the best record last year," senior Morgan Stanton said. "I think just getting back and getting going...it's time to redeem ourselves. I think that's big for everyone.
"As a team overall, I just want to play together. We have a lot of new players, so getting better team chemistry on and off the ball will be important."