In years to come, when Colorado soccer fans glance through the history book, the 2018 season will look like a thrilling one.
Unfortunately for the Buffaloes, it likely will be most remembered for its bitter and abrupt conclusion.
On Monday afternoon, CU was left out of the 64-team field for the NCAA Tournament. The snub denied the Buffs a third consecutive tournament appearance and the fifth in seven seasons under coach Danny Sanchez.
Despite recording a team-record 16-game unbeaten streak to start the season and scoring a team-record 47 goals, a weak strength-of-schedule rating during nonconference play, combined with Friday’s season-ending home loss against Utah, conspired to keep the Buffs home for the postseason.
While the Buffs will forever rue a season-ending four-game losing streak, three of those losses occurred against teams widely considered among the nation’s top eight or so teams — Stanford, USC and UCLA.
“We felt our body of work over 20 matches you can put up against any of the at-large bids,” Sanchez said. “Sixteen results out of 20 games. Three of your four losses are against the top seven RPI teams. But that’s the way it goes sometimes. Obviously I’m disappointed for the team. I’m really disappointed for the seniors. We asked a lot of them and they don’t get to play another game, but there’s bigger tragedies in life.
“I told the team we had a great season. Whatever happened (Monday) doesn’t take that away.”
The aforementioned trio of Stanford, USC and UCLA were among five Pac-12 Conference schools to receive bids, in addition to Washington State and Arizona. The Buffs finished ahead of WSU in the league standings and also defeated the Cougars on Oct. 4, but WSU had a win against UCLA and a draw against USC to their credit. The Buffs finished with an identical 5-4-2 league mark as Arizona and played to a 1-1 draw at UA on Sept. 30, but the biggest difference between the Wildcats’ resume and CU’s was a 2-1 victory for UA against Utah.
Overall, the Buffs went 2-3-1 against teams in the NCAA Tournament field.
CU (13-4-3) finished 8-0-1 in nonconference play and defeated the University of Denver in its only matchup against an eventual NCAA Tournament team before Pac-12 play. But the Buffs’ RPI wasn’t helped when several of those nonconference opponents struggled more than expected, including Michigan State (5-10-3), Missouri (6-11-2), Marquette (4-11-3) and 2017 NCAA Tournament participant Utah Valley (5-14-1).
A number of Buffs enjoyed historic seasons. Senior transfer Jorian Baucom, whose former team, LSU, reached the tournament, became just the third CU player to record 12 goals in a season, and junior Tatum Barton was right behind her with the sixth 11-goal season in team history.
Baucom’s 30 points was the second-most in team history, trailing only Nikki Marshall’s 37 in 2006, and junior midfielder Taylor Kornieck’s 28 points was tied for the third-most in CU history with former teammate Danica Evans.
Still, chances are the Buffs would have traded all those numbers for the chance to play one more game.
“Some of the teams in nonconference that historically have done really well all struggled. And every one of them struggled except for Denver, who had a very good season,” Sanchez said. “Then you get into Pac-12 play and we had no margin for error. And to be honest, we really did take care of business. We lost the three games, but we had the two draws against Arizona, who got in the tournament, and Arizona State, who probably was on the bubble with us.
“Then the Utah game. But over the course of 20 games, if you have one slip-up, that’s all you can ask of the team. In 2013 we were probably the last team in, and this year we’re probably the first team out. Those things have a tendency to even out.”
DU opens the postseason at Arizona on Friday at 7 p.m. MT.