High expectations are nothing new for the Colorado women's soccer team. The Buffaloes have reached the NCAA Tournament in four of the past five seasons, and in each of those appearances CU has advanced at least one round.
Still, 2018 might be a little different for coach Danny Sanchez's Buffs. Given the scant losses from the 2017 club and the firepower ready to emerge from the sideline, the Buffs could go into the 2018 slate as one of the teams to beat in the Pac-12 Conference.
CU wrapped up its spring schedule almost two weeks ago, compiling a 4-1-1 mark in six exhibition matches. Yet the final record was of less concern to Sanchez than ramping up the competition across his lineup thanks largely to the pending return of several injured players — most notably, Stephanie Zuniga and Jorian Baucom.
"When you play in a league like ours, everybody has a ton of talent and everybody has high expectations," Sanchez said. "From our side, we still have a lot to prove. Even though we've had a good run of success over the last six years, the players are also smart enough to look around and see there's going to be competition at every spot. It helped them in the spring to push, and now is really their time.
"We've challenged them to make sacrifices, to change what they've done in the past, to make this whole season better these next couple months until they get back here."
The Buffs lost only two regulars from a 2017 team that went 12-6-4 before losing at North Carolina in the second round of the NCAA Tournament — forward Becca Rasumussen and defender Joss Orejel. The Buffs are primed to replace both players on the fly.
Rasmussen led the Buffs with seven assists, yet the Buffs will welcome Zuniga back to the mix this fall. A knee injury suffered last spring kept Zuniga off the field in 2017, but one year earlier she shared the team lead with six assists. Baucom also suffered a knee injury last spring while still at LSU, but in her lone remaining season of eligibility the Buffs will add an accomplished finisher who recorded 33 goals in three seasons with the Tigers.
Zuniga and Baucom both played at full strength during the spring. It was a different story for freshman forward Libby Geraghty, who suffered a torn ACL in the first game last season, but she is expected to be at full speed by the end of the summer.
The Buffs' only other loss from 2017 was Orejel, but again the squad appears ready to make a seamless transition. Orejel missed only one game (the opener at CSU due to a family funeral), but with that exception Kelsey Aaknes, Hannah Cardenas, and Orejel started every game along the defense. Alex Vidger and Erin Greening essentially split starts for two different spots along the back line, and the two 2018 seniors likely will be fixtures on CU's defense once again alongside Aaknes and Cardenas.
"We have players that are good players that are really going to have to compete to get their time," Sanchez said. "You want to be positive with it. Things can change. Some players will step up and some won't. But we're excited to get everybody in and have some really good competition when we start seeing them at the end of July."