After waiting patiently for the 2020 season to begin after the calendar turned to 2021, waiting a few more days to learn their NCAA Tournament fate was little trouble for the Colorado women’s soccer team.
It was all made worthwhile for the Buffaloes on Monday.
Thanks in large part to a 3-0-1 finish that offset some midseason scoring woes, the Buffs received a bid to the shrunken 48-team NCAA Tournament that will be set entirely in North Carolina beginning next week, earning a first-round date against South Alabama at 5 p.m. MT on April 27 in Greensboro, N.C.
It will be the program’s 12th NCAA Tournament appearance overall and the sixth in nine seasons under head coach Danny Sanchez.
The winner between CU and South Alabama will play 10th-seeded Oklahoma State in the second round. In the 48-team format, the top 16 seeds received a first-round bye. Florida State earned the top overall seed, with the Pac-12 entrants including third-seeded UCLA, eighth-seeded USC, Arizona State, and Washington.
The Buffs (9-5-2) went 2-2-1 against the other Pac-12 teams in the tourney field and posted a 3-2-1 mark overall against NCAA tourney teams, including a season-opening win against Denver. The Pioneers will play Loyola Chicago in the first round with the winner facing second-seeded North Carolina.
“We finished in fifth-place in the Pac-12, but the team in front of us (Stanford) didn’t play as many games,” Sanchez said. “We felt good about that. We felt good about obviously some big results in conference play. The bubble teams around the country that could have stolen bids, with the exception of Iowa the results kind of fell our way. When you factor all that in I thought we were the fourth team in from the Pac-12, and that’s exactly how it played out.”
Even in a normal 2020 season, the Buffs would have been challenged to replace two of the program’s all-time greats in career points leader Taylor Kornieck and standout goalie JJ Tompkins. After the delayed start to the season, Monarch High alum and Washington transfer Dani Hansen turned in a standout season at goalkeeper, and the Buffs found just enough offense to stay on the good side of the NCAA Tournament bubble.
The Buffs scored multiple goals just four times in 11 Pac-12 games, but all four of those efforts produced key victories for CU, including consecutive wins against Arizona State and Utah to close the regular season.
“We were talking about it as a staff, and if you look at the last four games, Hannah Sharts, Kayleigh Webb, and Tessa Barton are really the only returning starters from the 2019 team,” Sanchez said. “You factor in that you lose two of the best players in program history in Taylor Kornieck and JJ Tompkins, then you factor in the tournament has 16 less at-large bids and what everyone had to go through to get to this point…it’s coach-speak but to be able to deal with all that with basically a new team and still get an NCAA Tournament bid, it’s a fantastic testament to our student-athletes and all of our staff to kind of gut through it and get to this point and give ourselves a chance.
“We had to get results and we got them. We earned our way in.”