Head coach Danny Sanchez and his University of Colorado soccer players always remained confident the level of talent on the roster didn’t match their last-place finish in the Pac-12 Conference last year.
The Buffaloes vowed 2016 would be different. But going from worst to first in one of the toughest leagues in the nation? No one had that pegged on the bulletin board as a realistic goal this fall.
Yet with three games remaining in the regular season CU is well-positioned to win its first conference crown in 13 years, and the remarkable manner in which the Buffs have won a number of their matches during a run of 11 wins in 12 games has the club believing this is a season of destiny.
The No. 22-ranked Buffs will begin attempting to put the final touches on their remarkable turnaround on Thursday with a home date against No. 9 UCLA at Prentup Field (3 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).
“I think everybody hopes for this, but looking back at last year and the reality of it, it didn’t seem like it could happen,” senior Mikaela Kraus said. “But I think this team, we just have a lot of confidence and we work really well together. We built on each other, so each game we keep getting more and more confident.
“I think this team is very special and we all realize that. Really it comes from us working hard, day in, day out.”
In five previous seasons in the Pac-12 the Buffs finished in the top half just twice, placing sixth in 2013 and third in 2014. CU was outscored 22-9 while going 1-8-2 in the Pac-12 last year, combining a tie for the most goals allowed in the league with the conference’s next-to-last scoring total.
With three games still to play, the Buffs already have scored nine more goals than during all of 2015. Owning 21 points and sitting in a three-way tie atop the conference with Stanford and USC, the Buffs are seeking the program’s first league title since winning the Big 12 Conference championship in 2003.
“Last year…I think we were better than our record. And as I’ve said, I don’t think there is a big difference among the teams,” Sanchez said. “Obviously we’re pleased with where we’re at. We go into every weekend feeling we can win. Same as last year. It wasn’t any different. The difference this year is we’re getting the results and we’re getting good performances.”
Of course, one critical difference this season has been the addition of freshman midfielder Taylor Kornieck. Her 11 goals is the third-best single-season total in CU history and the most by a Buffs player since current volunteer assistant coach Nikki Marshall set the team record with 17 as a freshman in 2006.
Kornieck also is the author of two of the most improbable winning goals in the program’s recent history, netting a winner in the waning seconds at Washington State on Sept. 23 before taking it up a notch earlier this week at Cal, heading home a free kick from Stephanie Zuniga to turn an all-but certain draw into a win with two seconds remaining in the second overtime.
“I think that just goes to how much trust we have in each other, and the amount of heart everybody showed in that (Cal) game,” senior forward Danica Evans said. “It just shows that we’re all willing to fight for each other until the end.”
The Buffs continue the homestand against No. 4 USC at noon Sunday before completing the regular season at home against Utah Nov. 4.