Forced hiatus adds to CU soccer’s challenge of replacing standout seniors

Buffs trying to adjust to new recruiting limitations

BOULDER, CO – AUGUST 6, 2019: Head coach, Danny Sanchez, during the first practice for the team. (Photo by Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

At the time, it seemed like a prudent plan by Colorado women’s soccer coach Danny Sanchez.

Given the number of walking wounded permeating the list of returning players for the Buffaloes following the 2019 season, CU didn’t schedule the first exhibition game of its spring training schedule until April 4, nearly a full month later than last year.

Sports fans are painfully aware of what occurred next. Fears of the spread of the new coronavirus shelved athletics at all levels indefinitely. While the elimination of the soccer team’s spring training isn’t on par with the disappointment of, for example, the men’s basketball team being unable to play in the NCAA Tournament, the hiatus nonetheless was an untimely setback for a Buffs team looking to fill more big shoes in critical spots than in recent seasons.

“Kind of the message we’ve been saying to the team is that we’re the same as Real Madrid, or the same as Man City, or the same as the Colorado Rapids — literally everybody in the world is in the same boat,” Sanchez said. “What we’re trying to do is just make the most of this time. I think that for us, the spring was going to be a time of transition, obviously, with losing some key seniors. But we also had quite a few players that were dinged up.

“Our numbers were pretty low, so we pushed all our games to April. Which in hindsight wasn’t brilliant, but we were hoping to get some games in to get some of the players who didn’t have big roles in the fall, they would’ve had a lot of minutes in the spring. Obviously that didn’t happen, but if there’s a silver lining it gives all of our injured players an opportunity to get back to 100 percent.”

After reaching the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in seven seasons last fall, Sanchez and his staff will have to be patient to start analyzing which players might best fill the holes in the rotation. Taylor Kornieck, who left CU as the program’s all-time points leader, was the third overall pick in the NWSL draft in January. Former goalie JJ Tompkins, CU’s all-time leader in wins and save percentage, signed a pro contract with a club in Norway. The Buffs lost two other starters in midfielder Steph Zuniga and defender Kelsey Aaknes.

Like every other sport, the forced hiatus will put a wrench into CU’s recruiting calendar. Typically, May and June are critical months to identify young prospects, but the NCAA recently extended its travel ban for recruiting trips, as well as on-campus visits, through May 31.

“For us, May and June are huge (for recruiting),” Sanchez said. “Every team is different. Fortunately for us, in the next couple of classes we don’t lose a ton of players and we have some good commitments already. On the optimistic side, it’s not like other years where we’re scrambling and kind of chasing players in April, May, and June. We’re always looking, but we did a lot of work last summer, a lot of work during the season to identify kids and put together our rankings of players.

“We realize that this next group of players that will be coming in for visits, whenever that can be, we may not see them for a long time. But we feel good about it. I know once we get the green light, we’ll be chasing for sure.”