Expanded role suits Steph Zuniga well in CU soccer’s opening win against Drake

Goal and assist apiece from Zuniga, Kornieck paces Buffs

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Stephanie Zuniga always has made the most of her chances, even if those opportunities generally have arrived in short spurts.

During the first three seasons with the Colorado women’s soccer team, Zuniga was a reliable bench player for the Buffaloes, often displaying a knack for pinpoint passes even when her minutes were limited. As a senior this season, Zuniga is being counted on by coach Danny Sanchez to play a larger role in the midfield for the Buffs. If Thursday’s season opener was any indication, Zuniga is more than ready for the added responsibilities.

Zuniga posted the first three-point game of her career, recording an assist on CU’s first goal of the season by Taylor Kornieck before scoring her own goal a little more than two minutes later, leading the Buffs to a 2-0 victory against Drake at Prentup Field.

“Whatever minutes I get I’m grateful for, but it being my last year, it’s different,” Zuniga said. “You come to a realization this is it. Just making the most of it, making the most of it with my teammates, and enjoying it and having fun. We need people to step up. Taylor can’t do it all. It’s nice to be able to kind of give her a hand and help her out in there.”

Zuniga entered the season with 57 games played to her credit but only four starts. While she had posted just one goal in each of her previous three seasons, Zuniga shared the team lead with six assists in 2016 and added three more assists last year (Zuniga missed the 2017 season due to a knee injury).

On Thursday, Zuniga used a free kick from about 35 yards out along the left wing to deliver an arcing centering pass to Kornieck, who won a battle against Drake goalie Kelsie Stone to head home her first goal of the year. Just 2 minutes, 12 seconds later Zuniga was on the receiving end of a pass from Kornieck, beating Stone to give the Buffs a 2-0 lead.

From there the Buffs cruised, with Sanchez substituting liberally with a revamped roster that features nine freshmen and 11 newcomers overall. The Buffs surrendered just two shots on goal to Drake, neither of which were stressful for CU goalie JJ Tompkins.

“(Zuniga) is a fifth-year senior. She’s been through it. We’ve talked a lot that it’s now or never,” Sanchez said. “Sometimes your best moment is your first game your freshman year, sometimes your best moment is your senior year or fifth year. We know she’s a very good player. She obviously had a good game today. Great service and a nice goal. But we have bigger challenges ahead.”

Notable

Five players made their CU debuts, with freshman Roo Yarnell-Williams and UCLA transfer Hannah Sharts getting starting assignments. Three freshmen — Tessa Barton, Kyla Ferry, and Jade Babcock-Chi — got minutes off the bench…With three points Kornieck began her charge toward Nikki Marshall’s CU career record. Kornieck now owns 75 points, trailing Katie Griffin (78), Fran Munnelly (84), and Marshall (93)…Tompkins notched her 38th career win, breaking a long offseason tie with Jessica Keller for the most in school history. It also was Tompkins’ 18th career solo shutout…The Buffs host Boston University Sunday at noon.

Colorado 2, Drake 0
Drake 0 0 — 0
Colorado 0 2 — 2
Goals: Colorado — Kornieck (Shymka, Zuniga), 50th minute; Zuniga (Kornieck), 52nd minute.
Goalies (min.-goals allowed-saves): Drake — Stone (90-2-2); Colorado – Tompkins (90-0-2).