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Quality results lacking as CU Buffs women’s soccer falls short of NCAA Tournament berth

Only four Pac-12 teams land spots in 64-team NCAA tourney field

University of Colorado Boulder Soccer Head Coach Danny Sanchez speaks to reporters during media day at the Dal Ward Athletic Center on Friday, Aug. 13, 2021.
University of Colorado Boulder Soccer Head Coach Danny Sanchez speaks to reporters during media day at the Dal Ward Athletic Center on Friday, Aug. 13, 2021.
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The Colorado women’s soccer program set up a demanding nonconference schedule this fall in large part to bolster the Buffaloes’ NCAA Tournament credentials.

That schedule helped keep the Buffs within striking distance of an NCAA bid for much of the season. But, as was the case in many ways for CU this fall, the Buffs fell just short.

The 64-team NCAA Tournament field that was announced on Monday did not include the Buffs, a fate that was expected  after CU settled for a tie at Utah in the regular season finale on Friday.

“We scheduled well. Our nonconference was brutal, but we didn’t get a big result in there,” CU head coach Danny Sanchez said. “We took care of the ones we should have, but we didn’t get the result against the three big ones in nonconference. We put ourselves with no margin in conference play, and the Pac-12 only got four teams in this year. Usually it’s six to nine. So the league overall didn’t take care of business in nonconference, for whatever reason.”

The three “big ones” Sanchez referred to in nonconference play were Florida State, TCU, and Purdue, all of which defeated the Buffs and landed NCAA Tournament berths. Florida State, the defending national runner-up, received one of the four No. 1 seeds.

Four Pac-12 teams landed bids — Stanford, UCLA, USC, and Washington State. The Buffs managed to secure a tie against Stanford but lost against the other three.

Colorado finished with an RPI of 51. A vacated game that would have been a win in the season opener against Colorado State didn’t help the Buffs’ stature (CSU opted not to return to the field after two weather delays and CU leading 3-0), but in the end the lack of a win against an NCAA Tournament team, combined with ties in winnable games against Cal and Oregon, kept CU in an uphill battle for the postseason.

“It probably comes down to, when you really look at it, Cal, Stanford or Oregon getting the win in one of those three games that we drew. And then the Colorado State game on top of it, just to have another win,” Sanchez said. “But we had our chances. We put ourselves in good position, but this season was an anomaly for the league that only four teams got in.”

The Buffs say farewell to four seniors, including points leader Shanade Hopcroft, who tied the team record with 10 assists this season. Two key seniors are planning to use the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA for the 2020-21 COVID year to return next season — midfielder Kayleigh Webb and defender Hannah Sharts.

Goalkeeper Dani Hansen and top goal-scorer Shyra James also are slated to return, and the Buffs might have a ready replacement for Hopcroft in freshman midfielder Jenny Beyer, who missed this season with a knee injury she suffered during the delayed 2020 season last spring.

It is only the fourth time in 10 seasons under Sanchez the Buffs won’t be playing in the tournament. Yet they expect to continue a key trend. After each of the previous NCAA tourney misses during Sanchez’s tenure — 2012, 2015, 2018 — the Buffs rebounded with back-to-back NCAA Tournament berths.

“We’re excited about next year,” Sanchez said. “We feel we have a couple players that missed this year, that if they come back healthy they’ll be bonus additions. And we have a top-10 recruiting class coming in that I think will make an impact.”

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