The transformation was as pleasing to the University of Colorado women's soccer team as it was shocking to those outside the program, but don't pencil in the Buffaloes as a perennial contender just yet.
There's still some work to do in coach Danny Sanchez's building process.
After compiling a mere four wins in 2011 and a .500 season in 2012, the Buffs morphed into a squad that advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament last season, matching the deepest CU has ever gone.
"I think we jumped ahead a little farther than I thought we'd be," Sanchez said Saturday at CU media day. "To be honest with you, we were probably one of the last teams to get into the NCAA Tournament. But anything can happen at that point, as we showed."
CU knocked off No. 19 Denver and No. 15 BYU before falling 4-0 to eventual runner-up Florida State in the round of 16. While CU's run was encouraging. Sanchez cautions against prematurely labeling the Buffs a powerhouse.
"We played the top team in the country last year in Florida State and we weren't ready for that game, I don't think," Sanchez said. "We got it handed to us and rightfully so. Hopefully we'll get that opportunity again, and I think we'll be more prepared as a team and a coaching staff to have success."
The Buffs will have to replace top scorer Anne Stuller, a Fairview graduate, and goalkeeper Annie Brunner. Scoring-wise, sophomore forward Brie Hooks (eight goals, two assists last season) will be counted upon to provide some punch. The diminutive, 5-foot-1 sparkplug scored eight goals and had two assists last season.
Standout senior midfielder Darcy Jerman also returns, as does junior forward Madison Krauser (four goals, six assists) for a squad that's ambitions are fueled from last year's run and sixth-place finish in the Pac-12 finish. The Buffs were chosen to finish 10th.
"There's a different mindset because we have made it to the Sweet 16," Hooks said. "Now we won't settle for anything less."
Three players will vie for the primary goalkeeper position. Sophomore Kenzie Tillitt saw brief action behind Brunner last season, and she'll be challenged by incoming freshman Scout Watson from Overland, Kansas, and Kate Scheele, a transfer from Colorado College.
Despite losing their top scorer, starting goalie and ending the season with a humbling experience, the Buffs understand that, as Sanchez puts it: "The bar has been raised."
"The FSU game was pretty brutal, but we learned a lot from that game," Jerman said, who played at Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs. "This is probably the most intense camp that I've been a part of. Every day, just really hard, really positive and a lot of energy."
CU will begin the season by hosting the Colorado Cup, a tournament that will feature all six of the state's Division-I programs. Each team will play three games, with CU scheduled to open with Colorado State (Aug. 22) and Northern Colorado (Aug. 24).
Last season, Denver won the tournament after beating CU in a goal-differential tiebreaker. CU officials are steadily building the event, and next season hope to open with all six teams playing on the same day.
Follow Paul on Twitter: twitter.com/PaulWillis21
CU women's soccer schedule
Note: all times Mountain; home games in CAPS)
Aug. 22 — COLORADO STATE, 4 p.m.
Aug. 24 — NORTHERN COLORADO, 4 p.m.
Aug. 29 — at UNLV, 8 p.m.
Aug. 31 — vs. Kent State (at UNLV), 2 p.m.
Sept. 5 — KANSAS, 4:30 p.m.
Sept. 7 — DETROIT, 1 p.m.
Sept. 12 — DENVER, 4:30 p.m.
Sept. 19 — BRYANT, 4 p.m.
Sept. 21 — SAN FRANCISCO, 1 p.m.
Sept. 27 — CALIFORNIA*, 1 p.m.
Oct. 3 — at USC*, 4 p.m.
Oct. 5 — at UCLA*, 2 p.m.
Oct. 10 — at Oregon*, 3 p.m.
Oct. 12 — at Oregon State*, 2 p.m.
Oct. 16 — at Stanford*, 7 p.m.
Oct. 24 — WASHINGTON STATE*, 3 p.m.
Oct. 26 — WASHINGTON*, 1 p.m.
Oct. 31 — ARIZONA STATE*, 3 p.m.
Nov. 2 — ARIZONA*, 12 p.m.
Nov. 7 — UTAH*, 12 p.m.
* denotes Pac-12 Conference game