Last fall, it took a while for the Colorado women's soccer team to find the right combination of defenders to clamp down on the opposition.

"Once we settled on Brooke Rice, Tori Cooper, Bianca Jones and Kahlia Hogg, we really hit our stride," Buffaloes head coach Danny Sanchez said. "Unfortunately, three of those players were seniors."

And, the fourth, Hogg, is currently nursing a knee injury.

So, as the Buffs go through their spring workouts and nine-game spring schedule, there is a huge opportunity for every healthy defender on the roster.

"As we look at this spring and especially going into the fall, it's the area where we need to identify some personnel and some people that we feel can compete in the Pac-12 for us," Sanchez said. "If you didn't play a lot in the fall, this is an opportunity to prove yourself in the spring."

The stellar play of CU's back line was critical in a late-season stretch that got the Buffs into the NCAA Tournament and then past BYU in the first round. It also kept them in the game against perennial power North Carolina before falling 1-0 in overtime in the second round. CU gave up just two goals in the last six games combined.

Injuries and some inconsistent play led to the season-long search for defenders last year. The Buffs are hoping this spring will help them get a jump-start on that search.

"I think this spring is really important for finding new defenders and establishing a new back line," said Hogg, who will be a senior in the fall. "Most importantly, it gives the freshman who came in last season ... the opportunity to show what they learned over the fall.


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"This gives them a chance without the additional pressure of playing against the likes of UCLA and Stanford to get confidence, get experience and just learn how everyone else plays and how we play as a team. Huge opportunity for them."

Those sophomores-to-be include Courtney Fedor, Jenna Reeves and Joss Orejel, who was a part-time starter last season.

Veterans Alex Huynh and Heather Ward, who both have starting experience, will also be critical in CU's establishment of a new back line.

"We've been working a lot on playing as a team and finding a rhythm with players who work well together," said Ward, who will be a senior. "I think we have a lot of good talent."

Ward's playing time was limited last year because of a broken foot and broken nose, so she views this spring as a big one for her and others.

"I definitely feel like it's a big spring," Ward said. "Every spring is big because we're always trying to get more minutes and get better during the offseason, so when it does come preseason and time for fall, we're ready to go."

While sitting out with her knee injury, Hogg has had a chance to watch others play and said she's been impressed.

"I think a lot the players have come on leaps and bounds over this spring," she said. "If that's an indication of how they're going to do over the summer and over the preseason and fall, I'm excited to see what the team can do."

Sanchez views the competition for the four back-line spots continuing into the fall, but said that during the next few weeks, "We have to find five or six players that can compete for those four spots."

Incoming freshman Alex Vidger, from Rock Canyon High School, could jump into the mix during the fall, and backup goalkeeper Kenzie Tillitt has been playing defense this spring.

Regardless of who winds up in the starting spots, the Buffs are confident they'll be strong in the back.

"We'll be able to find a great combination," Ward said. "We have lot of players who can play defense."

Notable

On Saturday, CU will take on Northern Colorado, Colorado Mesa and Western State in shortened games during the Regis University tournament. Competition starts at 12:40 p.m. ... CU finishes its spring schedule with a home double-header against Air Force and Northern Colorado on April 12 and a home match against Nebraska on April 18.

Brian Howell: howellb@dailycamera.com, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.