With less than 8 minutes remaining and NCAA Tournament dreams on the line, Colorado freshman Shyra James leaped for a header chance within the shadows of the South Alabama goal mouth.
The chance went awry, and James couldn’t help slapping the turf in frustration. The sequence epitomized the match for the Buffaloes on Tuesday, as CU dropped a 1-0 decision against South Alabama in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Greensboro, N.C.
It marked the first time in six tournament appearances over nine seasons under head coach Danny Sanchez that CU has lost in the first round. The Buffs finish the unusual 2020 season played in the spring of 2021 at 9-6-2.
“If you look at throughout the season, chances were at a premium for us. And when we created those, we need to be more efficient in the final third,” Sanchez said. “Obviously the last 25 or 30 minutes we created some chances, but that’s what the game was giving us because we were down a goal and were chasing it.
“But I think over the 90 minutes, I don’t know if we were tight a little bit, but at the end of it when you look at our whole season it had been a struggle throughout the season to create a lot. When you play this many one-goal games, sometimes you’re not going to get the result. Unfortunately that was the thing tonight.”
South Alabama scored the game’s lone goal early in the second half when Olivia Wilkes launched what started out as a long crossing pass into the Buffs’ defensive zone. Jaguars midfielder Brenna McPartland made a charging attempt at a potential header but actually missed the ball. CU goalkeeper Dani Hansen was momentarily frozen, expecting a re-direct off McPartland’s head, and she couldn’t recover as the ball bounded inside the far post.
The Buffs struggled to score for much of the season but produced a pair of two-goal efforts in wins that capped a 3-0-1 run to close the regular season and secure CU’s 12th appearance in the NCAA Tournament. However, the Buffs struggled to put pressure on South Alabama goalie Allison Luckhardt, who needed to make just three saves to record the shutout.
Desperate to find a tying goal, the Buffs had several chances down the stretch, including James’ errant header with about seven and a half minutes remaining. CU also had an opportunity for a dramatic goal in the waning seconds after South Alabama was whistled for a hand ball just outside the penalty area along the left wing. Senior midfielder Shanade Hopcroft attempted to tuck a shot into the far corner, but CU’s last chance deflected off the crossbar.
Despite the setback, the Buffs advanced to the NCAA Tournament after having to replace all-time points leader Taylor Kornieck and standout goalie JJ Tompkins. With the bulk of the team set to return for a traditional fall season that already is just a few months away, the Buffs should be well-positioned for a run at the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
“Definitely proud of this team. We are a young team and we’re starting to mesh,” CU junior midfielder Kayleigh Webb said. “I think you could really see that from the beginning games up until now. It took us a little to get a rhythm, but I really think we came together at the very end.”
South Alabama 1, Colorado 0
South Alabama 0 1 — 1
Colorado 0 0 — 0
Goals: South Alabama — Wilkes (Green), 58th minute; Saves: South Alabama — Luckhardt 3; Colorado — Hansen 2.