Two years ago, Taylor Kornieck turned in one of the greatest freshman seasons in the history of the University of Colorado women's soccer team.
And last year? Calling 2017 a step backward or a disappointment might be an overstatement. After all, Kornieck still shared the team lead in points with 18 (seven goals, four assists) on a club that finished 12-6-4 and reached the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in five seasons.
Still, Kornieck is considered one of the top players in the nation in her age group, and the Buffaloes junior readily admits she expected more from herself in 2017. As the Buffs began official preseason workouts Tuesday morning, Kornieck expects to return to form for a club that, on paper, has the most talented roster in coach Danny Sanchez's seven years at the helm.
"Freshman year, I came in fresh and was ready to go. Sophomore year, I think I guess I thought I peaked, but now I know I completely did not," Kornieck said. "I'm ready to go. I'm a lot fitter, I'm a lot stronger. It's going to be my year."
For much of the early portion of the 2017 schedule, Kornieck shuttled between her attacking midfield slot and a forward position. And, as Sanchez pointed out, Kornieck's total of 11 goals as a freshman was bolstered by three successful penalty kicks — opportunities that did not repeat in 2017.
This fall Kornieck is healthy — she missed a call-up with the U20 U.S. Women's National Team this past spring while recovering from a torn meniscus — and she will be firmly entrenched in her more natural attacking midfield spot. She will have plenty of options on the attack while quarterbacking the Buffs' offense.
Not only does CU return leading goal-scorer Marty Puketapu (eight goals), but the Buffs' attack will be amplified by three players forced to the sideline a year ago. Puketapu received an opportunity for an expanded role after freshman Libby Geraghty, who earned a starting spot during the preseason, suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener at Colorado State.
In 2017 the Buffs also missed Stephanie Zuniga, who shared the team lead in assists in 2016, and LSU transfer Jorian Baucom, who won several league honors from the Southeastern Conference while scoring 33 goals in three seasons for the Tigers. Geraghty, Zuniga, and Baucom all have recovered from their respective knee injuries and will combine with offensive holdovers Tatum Barton (six goals) and Megan Massey (four goals, six assists) to create what should be a formidable attack for the Buffs.
Add to the equation a veteran goalkeeping tandem of JJ Tompkins and Scout Watson playing behind a group of experienced defenders, and Sanchez has an enviable problem. There probably will be a few very talented CU players relegated to the bench once the season opener arrives on Aug. 16 at Air Force.
"We feel this year (Kornieck) will have more tools around her and we feel she'll have even more of an impact than she did her first year," Sanchez said. "I think it's (our) deepest team. But at the end of the day, only 11 players get to play. This year's group, we have very good players, but we have a lot of competition. That might be the one piece that's a little bit different.
"It used to be we had depth at goal. We had great goalkeepers, and we still do. But now I think we have it through all the lines. It will be good competition the next few weeks to see how we line up against Air Force."