Dani Hansen’s homecoming was triumphant by any measure. The most important gauge to the Colorado women’s soccer team was Hansen’s impact in the win column during the delayed 2020 season played in early 2021.
Things didn’t go quite as smoothly for Hansen and the rest of the Buffs last year. Her numbers at goalkeeper crept upward, CU surrendered shots more frequently, and this time CU fell short of the NCAA Tournament.
As the Buffs progress through preseason practices with an eye on the Aug. 18 opener at home against Weber State, getting Hansen and the CU defense back on track is a key priority for the upcoming season. With Hansen and the core of the defense back, the Buffs believe they are up to the challenge.
“I think honestly it’s just about that big reset, clearing our heads and getting back out into it,” Hansen said. “I don’t think anything major really has to change. Everyone is still very talented. I don’t think there’s any really glaring, major things that are going to get fixed. It’s just consistency and making sure we’re back to where we were.”
A graduate of Monarch High, Hansen transferred to CU from Washington and played a starring role in that delayed 2020 season, posting an .876 save percentage that ranks as the second-best single-season mark in team history. While the 17 games played that season is tied for the second-lowest total since the program’s inception in 1996, the 105 shots on goal faced by Hansen was more than five other spots on that top-10 list.
Last fall proved to be a different story. The Buffs allowed nearly two more shots per game than they had just months earlier, and Hansen’s save percentage dipped to .710. Although the back line lost two regular starters in Gabbi Chapa and Haileigh Adams, the Buffs return two-time first team All-Pac-12 selection Hannah Sharts and are welcoming back standout defender Hannah Cardenas, who has missed the past two seasons due to injury.
Lawson Willis, Jayden Newkirk, Phoenix Miranda, Alyssa Duke and Hailey Stodden all have starting experience along the back line, giving head coach Danny Sanchez plenty of combinations to sort through as he finalizes the opening day rotation.
“It was interesting last year, because in COVID spring I think Dani kept us in a lot of games,” Sanchez said. “And it was also a team where every game was kind of a scrap-fest, whether it was weather or playing on Kittredge on the turf or the limited time between games. It just was a different deal. I think last year, defensively if we gave up a half-chance it was going in. We definitely have the personnel to be successful.
“We have Hannah Sharts back, so we have an All-Pac-12 level center back. We have a goalkeeper who’s an All-Pac-12 goalkeeper. We have a younger goalkeeper in Bella (Grust) who’s really pushing hard. And Hannah Cardenas looks really good so far. We’re easing her into it, because she has been out for so long. But we have options. A lot of times it’s also about how well we keep the ball. Some teams, they do great defensively because they don’t have to defend. I think that’s going to help the defense this year if we do a better job of keeping the ball.”
The Pac-12 preseason coaches poll was released on Wednesday, with the Buffs coming in at No. 5 with 79 points, nine points behind fourth-place USC. Stanford topped the poll with six first-place votes and 116 points, followed by UCLA (112, four first-place votes) and Washington State (100, two first-place votes).
Rounding out the poll behind the Buffs was Cal (70 points), Washington (52), Oregon (51), Utah (46), Arizona State (41), Oregon State (22) and Arizona (15).