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Injury comebacks highlight spring slate for CU Buffs soccer

Buffs sign Fort Collins four-star recruit Emerson Layne

Colorado's Hannah Cardenas works to the ball against UCLA's Ashley Sanchez during their game in Boulder on Friday. Go to BuffZone.com for more photos.
Paul Aiken / Staff Photographer
Colorado’s Hannah Cardenas works to the ball against UCLA’s Ashley Sanchez during their game in Boulder on Friday. Go to BuffZone.com for more photos.

Hannah Cardenas still is months away from being at full strength. So as the Colorado women’s soccer team goes through a full spring training routine for the first time since 2019, Cardenas once again has been relegated to the sideline as she attempts to get healthy.

After enough debilitating injury setbacks to fill a decades-plus playing career, Buffaloes head coach Danny Sanchez said he approached Cardenas about the possibility of remaining with the program while perhaps hanging up her game cleats.

Sanchez says Cardenas considered it. Briefly. Instead, Cardenas’ latest road to recovery has continued this spring alongside the injury return of midfielder Jenny Beyer as the Buffs look to shake off a 2021 campaign that ended without an NCAA Tournament bid for only the second time in the past six seasons.

“She has such a drive, but after having three major injuries since she’s been here, we kind of left it last fall that if she wants to be done, we’ll support you in whatever you want to do,” Sanchez said. “It wasn’t much later when she said she’s all in and coming back for ’22. Obviously everyone is pulling for her for the quality of person she is and what she’s meant to the program.”

Cardenas started all 22 games as a true freshman defender on a record-setting Buffs defense in 2017, but she has played just 28 games in the three seasons since due to injuries. She logged most of those games when she started all 22 games in 2019 when she led the team in minutes played.

Cardenas was injured again early in the delayed 2020 season a year ago, as was Beyer. Neither player competed during the 2021 season last fall. Beyer, a sophomore midfielder from Germany, is competing this spring, and a healthy return this fall by Cardenas would bolster a defense expected to once again be a team strength.

Two-time first team All-Pac-12 defender Hannah Sharts is using her extra COVID year of eligibility to return for the 2022 season. Starting goalie Dani Hansen also is set to return, though Bella Grust started in goal in last week’s 3-2 spring game loss against Brigham Young.  Beyer and Shyra James, the Buffs’ leading goal-scorer last fall with nine, should help offset the loss of play-making midfielder Shanade Hopcroft.

More reinforcements are on the way, too. Sanchez and his staff added to an already well-regarded 2022 recruiting class on Tuesday, signing Fort Collins native Emerson Layne, a four-star recruit by Top Drawer Soccer who competed with Real Colorado.

The Buffs spring schedule continues on Saturday at Nebraska before a home date on April 16 against Wyoming. CU’s spring schedule concludes with a Colorado Cup showcase at Prentup Field on April 23 that also is set to include Denver, Air Force and Northern Colorado.

“I thought the match with BYU was a good match. It exposed us in some areas, but I thought there definitely were some players who stepped up and showed they can perform at a high level,” Sanchez said. “We’re going to continue that with Nebraska this weekend. It is a lot about the team, but it’s really about the individual players as we kind of start to put together our evaluations as we go into the fall.

“It is a good group. And they are good players. There aren’t any weak players. We have to start to establish where they’re at and where they could be for the fall. We want to play well, but we want to get an idea of what we have to work with.”

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