No. 25 Colorado women's soccer at Colorado State
When: Friday, 5 p.m., Fort Collins.
Notable: The CSU program begins its fifth season, all under former CU head coach Bill Hempen. The Rams were picked 11th in the preseason coaches poll in the Mountain West Conference...CU has outscored the Rams 5-2 in the teams' three previous meetings, with the Buffs going 2-0-1...The Buffs host Colorado College in their home opener at Prentup Field Sunday at 3:30 p.m.
The Colorado women's soccer team needs to look no further than the program's most recent trip to Fort Collins to understand the importance of starting a season on the right foot.
As the Buffaloes kick off the program's 22nd season — the sixth under head coach Danny Sanchez — with a Friday afternoon battle at Colorado State, the 2017 Buffs bear a few early similarities to the group that began the 2015 season at CSU.
Like that year, CU is coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance while having the pieces in place to do it again. The Buffs have reached the tournament in three of the past four seasons, with the lone blip during that run occurring in 2015. CU began that year with a trip to Fort Collins, returning home after a lackluster 1-1 draw that set the stage for a 7-10-3 season.
With a standout defense returning intact and a potential All-American roaming the midfield in sophomore Taylor Kornieck, the 25th-ranked Buffs don't expect a repeat performance during this trip to CSU. It will be the Rams' first game on their new home turf, which replaces the former football practice fields immediately adjacent to Moby Arena.
"It's going to be a tight game. It's going to be a tight atmosphere. We're going to have to play well to get a result," Sanchez said. "We realize that. It's just like a CSU-CU football game, with the exception of last year, where CSU was actually relaxed for that football game. In this situation, we know they'll be up. And I know this year we'll be up.
"Playing at their place, in front of a big crowd in a new facility for them, it's going to be a big challenge for us."
The Buffs can make an early claim to the annual Colorado Cup competed for by the state's Division I programs, as CU follows its trip to CSU by hosting Colorado College in the Buffs' home opener Sunday afternoon.
In the big picture, however, Friday's match presents the Buffs with their first chance to work on matching a new set of forwards with a solid cast of midfielders that includes Kornieck, Sarah Kinzner, and Megan Massey.
"I think me and the freshmen are working really well together," Kornieck said. "Me and Libby (Geraghty) especially have been linking up really well."
Evans tied Kornieck last year for the team lead with 11 goals, and the Buffs also lost another solid contributor at the top of the attack in Emily Bruder (four goals, four assists). Among the candidates to fill those vacated roles are sophomore Camilla Shymka, who recorded a goal and two assists in 15 games last year before suffering a season-ending knee injury, and newcomers Martine Puketapu, Becca Rasmussen, and Geraghty.
Sanchez said finding the right mix might require shuffling offensive players somewhat liberally during the season's first few matches.
"I think we have good options," Sanchez said. "Danica and Emily, for the most part last year they were the forwards. Cam put herself in good position and got some starts in the middle of the year, and she was doing really well until she got hurt. But really that was kind of it.
"Whereas this year...you have a lot more options of players we can put in that final third. I think it will be a work in progress. I think it will be a work in progress even within the game. We'll move players around, because a lot of those players can play in the midfield, too."