With one of the top goalkeeper tandems in the nation leading the way, the Colorado women's soccer team figured to once again feature a stingy defense.
Yet no goalie, not even a pair as unflappable as the Buffaloes' Scout Watson and JJ Tompkins, can pitch shutouts completely on their own. Given the pieces head coach Danny Sanchez has had to unexpectedly mix and match along the back line, it is a credit to how quickly a few defensive youngsters have grown up through the Buffs' 9-0-1 start.
CU played only two games with its premier defensive lineup, a formation that included two players — senior Erin Greening and sophomore Hannah Cardenas — who were regular starters last season. Greening also started all 22 games in 2016 and has been a defensive fixture on two consecutive NCAA Tournament teams.
But Cardenas, who started the first 24 games of her collegiate career, was lost to a season-ending torn ACL after three games, while Greening has been out of the lineup since suffering her own knee injury in the season's second game. On top of that senior Alex Vidger, who made 19 starts last season and was likely to be a key component to CU's defensive depth, was dismissed from the team due to a violation of team rules after three games.
Since Cardenas' injury, Sanchez has started three freshmen on defense in eight consecutive matches. Yet CU's defense remains as formidable as ever as the 18th-ranked Buffs begin a two-game trip through Arizona on Thursday afternoon at Arizona State.
"We've battled some injuries in the back, and it has been a bit of a revolving door that will continue that weekend," Sanchez said. "I think Jesse Loren and Kayleigh Webb as freshmen, we thought they'd be good player but they've really stepped in and are playing positions neither of them have played in their life, really, and they've been very good at center back. Sophia Weiner has been very good at outside back. And Chaynee Kingsbury, who's been a striker her whole life at Windsor High School and club, has done a good job at outside back."
With Tompkins and Watson leading the way, the Buffs set season records last year for save percentage (.870), goals-against average (0.61), and shutouts (14). Tompkins set CU individual season records for save percentage (.882) and goals-against average (0.58), but she did much of that work behind a defense that remained largely intact throughout the season. Despite the increased defensive juggling this year the Buffs are on pace to match and even top last year's record numbers, currently boasting a .933 save percentage, .029 goals-against average, and seven shutouts.
"We coach them up, but we also know and they know we're going to face a lot better players over these next 10 games," Sanchez said. "There's going to be some challenges, and there's not going to be success all of the time. Which is fine. They've gained some experience, but it helps to have that last line of defense with Scout and JJ."