With players like sophomore Taylor Kornieck and freshman Hannah Cardenas, both of whom have been invited to the U.S. U-20 National Team training camp, the future remains bright for the Colorado women's soccer team.

And the reasons for optimism around the 2018 season hardly ends with those two.

The Buffaloes reached the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in five seasons this fall, and despite their second-round loss at top-seeded North Carolina last week, CU already has the look of a team that could be the most talented bunch since coach Danny Sanchez took over before the 2012 season.

A year ago, the Buffs returned to the NCAA tourney behind solid defense and a dynamic and versatile offense. This year CU leaned on one of the stingiest defenses in program history. Next year, the Buffs could be loaded at every position group.

"It's so competitive as you know, and this year our goalkeeping and really our team defense from front to back is probably what drove us, especially toward the end of the season," Sanchez said. "I think we're going in the right direction. I think for us to take the next step as a program we have to find some bigger wins in nonconference play and then obviously knock off some of the big (teams) in conference play and hopefully get a better draw."

The Buffs lose only two major contributors from this year's team — defender Joss Orejel, whose 14 career assists ranks as a tie for fifth all-time at CU, and forward Becca Rasmussen, who led CU with seven assists despite missing the final two games due to a concussion.


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Among the talent set to return for the Buffs are Kornieck, who through two seasons already is tied for seventh all-time at CU with 44 points; Cardenas, a true freshman who started all 22 games as a central defender; and redshirt sophomore Jalen Tompkins, one of the top goalies in the Pac-12 Conference who set a single-season team record this fall with an .882 save percentage and matched another record with a goals-against average of 0.58.

CU also is set to return a group of 2018 seniors that boasts a wealth of experience, including three players — Erin Greening, Alex Vidger, and Sarah Kinzner — who already have logged at least 60 games in a CU uniform. While the offense at times struggled to finish this year, the Buffs should welcome back leading goal-scorer Marty Puketapu, whose eight goals tied for the fourth-most ever by a CU freshman, and sophomore Tatum Barton, who posted six goals and two assists after transferring from Texas Tech.

Additionally, three players who were forced to watch from the sideline this fall will return to the mix in 2018. Steph Zuniga shared the team lead with six assists in 2016 but missed this season due to a knee injury she suffered in the spring. Freshman forward Libby Geraghty earned the starting nod for the season-opener at Colorado State but suffered a season-ending knee injury. She will return next year with four years of eligibility remaining. And Jorian Baucom, previously one of the top scorers in the Southeastern Conference, will add firepower after recording 33 goals in three seasons at LSU.

"When you look at it on paper, 10 months before we play again, obviously we're going to be optimistic," Sanchez said. "For sure we'll have more depth along every line. We'll have three of the four starting backs returning and all four midfielders. And Marty and Tatum, who really came on in their first year with the Buffs. To add players who have experience at this level, we feel pretty good about it."

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