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BOULDER, CO – August 3, 2019: Taylor Kornieck, of CU soccer, during Fall sports media day. (photo by Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
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By most standards, Taylor Kornieck and the rest of the Colorado women’s soccer team enjoyed a remarkably successful season last year.

The Buffaloes opened 2018 by reeling off a team-record 16-game unbeaten streak. By the time it was all over, CU had posted the highest-scoring campaign in program history, setting new standards for goals (47), assists (52), and points (146).

For her part, Kornieck added another chapter to a career already destined to be remembered as one of the best in CU history. Yet for all the offensive fireworks and individual accolades, the record-setting season ended in disappointment, as a late four-game losing streak combined with a subpar mark in the RPI left the Buffs out of the NCAA Tournament for just the second time in six seasons.

Kornieck is a senior now, and with 72 career points she is well within reach of Nikki Marshall’s CU record of 93. But as the Buffs get set to kick off the 2019 season Thursday afternoon against Drake at Prentup Field, Kornieck is far more focused on getting CU back into the tournament than adding to the gaudy totals dotting her stat line.

“It’s my last season and I want to make it my best season,” Kornieck said. “I hope to make the postseason this time and I don’t want to repeat what happened last season. It was pretty disappointing. I know how hard my team worked just to get there and we were certain we had one of our best teams ever at Colorado. Now, that’s in the past. I’m just looking forward and hoping to get into the postseason my senior year.”

For the second straight year, Kornieck goes into the season on the watch list for the Hermann Award as the nation’s top player. Last fall Kornieck earned her second first team All-Pac-12 Conference honor (she also was second team in 2017), and she is in position to possibly topple several all-time records. In addition to Marshall’s all-time points mark, Kornieck also needs six assists to match Fran Munnelly’s career record of 24.

Kornieck owns two of the top seven single-season point totals in CU history, posting 26 as a freshman and 28 last year despite missing four midseason games due to injury. In terms of what she brings to the field, Kornieck has set a lofty bar. Yet CU head coach Danny Sanchez said he challenged Kornieck over the offseason to improve her game by taking her fitness to a new level, and the senior midfielder responded.

“Taylor is the most fit she has ever been,” Sanchez said. “Obviously she’s always been a great player, but that’s one area where we challenged her to be more fit, more explosive, stronger. She really bought into it, and the numbers show it. We need her to be the go-to person when things get tough. She’s shown real growth in the spring and especially this preseason camp of pushing herself to be the best, but also dragging some others along with her.”

The loss of 12-goal scorer Jorian Baucom and a much tougher nonconference schedule compiled in response to last year’s RPI shortfall probably means the Buffs won’t threaten the program’s scoring records again. However, the Buffs certainly have the pieces to earn a return trip to the NCAA tourney. Kornieck and senior goalie JJ Tompkins are among the best in the nation at their respective positions. Hannah Cardenas is returning from a knee injury to bolster a battle-tested defense, and an impressive freshman class should add reinforcements to an attack that also includes senior forward Tatum Barton, who has scored 17 goals the past two seasons.

“I don’t think we’ll see a drastic change in style of play,” Sanchez said. “Last year we had a really good group of seniors, and before the injuries hit was had a pretty good idea of where we wanted to play. I think this year there’s still some people really fighting for spots to earn the opportunity to be in the starting lineup with Taylor and JJ and Hannah Cardenas.

“I think there’s still some really good position battles, and I’m looking forward to seeing who performs on game day.”

Drake at Colorado soccer

Game time: Thursday, 5 p.m., Prentup Field

Records (2018): Drake 9-9-1; CU 13-4-3.

Leaders (top returning from 2018): Drake — Goals: F Olivia Bruce, Jr., 6; Assists: F Shelley Lyjak, Sr., 3; Goalie: Kelsie Stone, Jr., .826 save percentage, 1.03 goals-against average. Colorado — Goals: F Tatum Barton, Sr., 11; Assists: MF Taylor Kornieck, Sr., 10; Goalie: JJ Tompkins, Sr., .851 save percentage, 0.98 goals-against average.

Notes: The Buffs will be without sophomore defender Sophia Weiner for several weeks after she suffered a broken foot during preseason camp. The Evergreen native played in all 20 games last season with 16 starts…Freshman midfielder Allie Palangi also is expected to be unavailable against Drake due to an ankle injury, but she could return next week…Coach Danny Sanchez enters his eighth season at CU, and Thursday’s opener will mark his 500th game as a head coach, including stints at Metro State and Wyoming. Sanchez owns a record of 83-48-18 with the Buffs…Tompkins enters her final season as the Buffs’ all-time leader in save percentage (.862) and goals-against average (0.79). Tompkins also is tied with Jessica Keller for the most goalie wins at CU with 37…CU has played Drake just twice, defeating the Bulldogs in 2007 and 2008…The Buffs host Boston on Sunday at noon.

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