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Bittersweet finale for Colorado women’s soccer in Senior Day battle against Utah

BOULDER,CO-September 23:Colorado's Hannah Sharts (21) connects ...
Colorado’s Hannah Sharts (21) connects with the ball over ASU’s Jazmine Wilkerson during the University of Colorado Boulder and Arizona State soccer game on September 23, 2022. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

For Hannah Cardenas, the trials of a painful yet rewarding college soccer career might help shape the professional medical career on the horizon.

For Hannah Sharts, the silver lining of a pandemic-marred collegiate career was that she was able to enjoy a bonus season on a campus she has grown to love.

For those two players and the entirety of the Colorado women’s soccer roster, the 2022 season has not gone as planned. After storming out of the gate, the Buffaloes have stumbled down the stretch, leaving an NCAA Tournament bid out of the equation as they host Utah in the season finale on Friday at Prentup Field.

Still, the Buffs bid farewell to a group of seniors that will leave a mark on the program history book. And, despite recent struggles that have seen the Buffs shut out in four of the past five games, Friday’s finale presents an opportunity to go out on a winning note.

“I think everyone wants a fairy tale ending for their senior season, and we didn’t quite get that, not making the tournament,” said Sharts, who began her career at UCLA but has been a first-team All-Pac-12 selection with CU the past two years. “But the past three years that I was here prior have felt like a fairy tale. I feel so fortunate every day to have picked this as my place for my transfer school. I never knew I could love a transfer school so much. It’s really become a second home to me.”

Cardenas was a key part of a defense that set a team record for goals-against average (0.61) when she was a true freshman in 2017. Yet since then Cardenas — who has dual bachelor’s degrees in integrated physiology and psychology — has endured three torn ACLs before rallying for one final, healthy season this year.

Cardenas and Sharts are two of five seniors set to be honored on Friday who took advantage of the extra season of eligibility granted by the NCAA for the 2020-21 COVID year. That group includes Kayleigh Webb, who has started every game of her five-year career and, thanks to the extra season, has likely put the program record for career starts out of reach (she is set to make start No. 98 against Utah).

The “super senior” quintet also includes Civana Kuhlmann, the Stanford transfer whose 28 points this season is tied for fourth all-time in program history, and goalkeeper Dani Hansen, the Monarch High School graduate who has logged 47 starts in three seasons at CU after transferring from Washington.

Two other four-year seniors, Allie Palangi and Alyssa Duke, will be honored on Friday as well. Fourth-year seniors Jade Babcock-Chi and Amaya Gonzalez are planning to return next year and use their extra seasons.

“Every practice, every game that I got was a blessing in itself,” Cardenas said. “Doctors told me I could last a week, I could last three months. It was a toss-up in the air. Being able to make it to my Senior Day has been amazing. I never would’ve thought this would happen, so I’m very grateful for it.”

It will be a bittersweet finale for the Buffs, whose fast start two months ago spurred talk of a return to the NCAA Tournament and a run at the team’s season record for goals. Neither will happen, as an ongoing five-game winless streak (0-4-1) with four shutout losses has left the Buffs out of the tournament picture.

“I don’t know that we ever really found a consistent rhythm, especially once we got into Pac-12 play,” CU head coach Danny Sanchez said. “We never found any momentum. Sometimes results give you momentum, but we just never found it.”

Utah Utes at CU Buffs women’s soccer

KICKOFF: Friday, 3 p.m., Prentup Field.

BROADCAST: TV — Pac-12 Mountain.

RECORDS: Utah 6-7-5, 2-5-3 Pac-12 Conference; Colorado 8-7-4, 2-6-2.

KEY PLAYERS: Utah — F Taliana Kaufusi, Jr., (six goals); MF/F Madeline Vergura, Sr. (three goals, three assists); MF Courtney Brown, Sr. (three goals, two assists); GK Evie Vitali, So. (.721 save percentage, 1.39 goals-against average). Colorado — F Civana Kuhlmann, Gr. (11 goals, six assists); F Shyra James, Jr. (11 goals, one assist); F Kayleigh Webb, Gr. (six goals, three assists); GK Bella Grust, So. (.759 save percentage, 1.74 goals-against average).

NOTES: CU is unbeaten in its past three matches against the Utes (2-0-1), and it has been an entertaining series in recent years. Six of the past seven matchups have ended in ties or one-goal decisions…Despite getting shut out in four of the past five games, CU’s early-season goal-scoring flurry has left the Buffs with 40 goals this season, good for fifth in program history. CU needs two goals in the finale to match the 2006 team in fourth-place…Depending on the results from around the league on the final weekend of the regular season, the Buffs can finish anywhere between eighth and 11th in the Pac-12…Utah has not scored a goal during a five-game winless streak (0-2-3).