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Drive for bigger challenges leads to historic season for CU Buffs’ Shanade Hopcroft

NCAA tourney bid could be on the line in regular season finale at Utah

BOULDER, CO - AUGUST 3:From left: University of Colorado Boulder's Shanade Hopcroft (No. 10) and Jade Babcock-Chi (No. 16) during practice at Prentup Field in Boulder on Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
BOULDER, CO – AUGUST 3:From left: University of Colorado Boulder’s Shanade Hopcroft (No. 10) and Jade Babcock-Chi (No. 16) during practice at Prentup Field in Boulder on Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

The impressive part isn’t simply that Shanade Hopcroft has been willing to bet on herself over and over during the past five years, as commanding of respect as that journey has been.

The part that has been most impressive about the senior midfielder from the Colorado women’s soccer team is every time Hopcroft has rolled the dice regarding her soccer future, she has hit a jackpot.

Hopcroft opted to return for a sixth season this fall and has put together one of the top individual campaigns in program history. Hopcroft and the Buffaloes hope at least one more big-time performance remains in the deck when CU visits Utah in the regular season finale on Friday with a possible NCAA Tournament berth on the line.

Through Wednesday’s games across the nation, CU was at No. 44 in the RPI. While some movement will be dependent on how other teams fare, if the Buffs can get a road win that bumps then into the 30s, they might hear their name called during the tournament selection show on Monday. A loss or tie at Utah likely will end the season.

“She has a passion for the game that is unique,” CU head coach Danny Sanchez said. “Most players and most student-athletes will say they’re passionate about what they do. But there’s players and student-athletes who are more passionate. And she’s in the more passionate category. She wanted to challenge herself at a higher level. And I think she has exceeded our expectations and maybe even her own.”

More than four years ago, Hopcroft left her native England in order to take a chance on collegiate soccer in the United States. In two years of junior college play at Daytona State College, she recorded eight goals and 15 assists in 28 games. Seeking a bigger challenge, Hopcroft transferred to Division II UCCS, where she was named the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Player of the Year after posting 13 goals and 12 assists in 2019.

Hopcroft wasn’t done taking aim at bigger challenges. She transferred to CU after the 2019 season but didn’t get to play her COVID-delayed senior season until this past spring. When an opportunity arrived to have a second chance at a senior season — all NCAA student-athletes in 2020-21 were granted an extra season of eligibility — Hopcroft once again figured she had nothing to lose.

“I thought long and hard about it and after COVID happened. I had been so ready for my senior season. We had a spring season, but it didn’t really feel the same,” Hopcroft said. “When I knew I could come back, I thought I could do more because I hadn’t reached my potential.”

Hopcroft has obliterated the ceiling on that potential this fall. After recording three goals and two assists in 17 games during the spring season, Hopcroft goes into the Utah game leading the Buffs in points with six goals and 10 assists. Her assist total is tied for the most in the Pac-12, and Hopcroft has also tied the CU single-season record set by Taylor Kornieck in 2018.

Hopcroft’s unique skills also gave the Buffs some free national publicity three weeks ago when her bicycle-kick goal against Stanford landed the clip on ESPN’s Top Ten plays. If Hopcroft can help the Buffs put together one more highlight-worthy performance on Friday, there is a reasonable chance the club will have a chance to extend the season in the NCAA Tournament.

“When you first experience anything for the first time, you have to get a feel for it,” Hopcroft said. “Once I played those (Pac-12) teams in the spring, I was more confident about what I could do. It’s been really exciting. After every win, I call my parents back in England. And this year, compared to the spring, we’re a more attacking team. We’re shooting more, attacking more. It’s been a fun season, but we’re approaching (Utah) like it’s a tournament game we have to win.”

CU Buffs women’s soccer at Utah Utes

KICKOFF: Friday, 3 p.m. MT, Ute Field, Salt Lake City

BROADCAST: TV/Stream — Pac-12 Networks.

RECORDS: Colorado 8-7-3, 3-4-3 Pac-12 Conference; Utah 6-10-3, 1-7-2.

KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — M Shanade Hopcroft, Sr., six goals, 10 assists; F Shyra James, So., eight goals, two assists; D Hannah Sharts, Sr., two goals, four assists; G Dani Hansen, Jr., .708 save percentage, 1.53 goals-against average. Utah — M Courtney Talbot, Jr., five goals, one assist; F Taliana Kaufusi, So., four goals; G Chelsea Peterson, So.,.763 save percentage, 1.24 goals-against average.

NOTES: CU needs a win in order to have a shot at the 64-team NCAA Tournament field, which will be announced on Monday. “Our RPI is very good, and if we’re able to get a result at Utah it will go up,” CU coach Danny Sanchez said. “In the history of the RPI, no power five team that’s been 38th or 39th has ever not gotten in, so we have that going for us. But we also left some results out there that would have made this a more relaxing week for us.”…CU won its two spring matches against the Utes and leads the all-time series 10-6-2…Utah has lost its past three games and five of the past six. The Utes are coming off a 4-1 loss at Arizona State.

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