Coming off of a 2-0 victory last Friday night against northern rival, the Wyoming Cowgirls, the Colorado women’s soccer team (6-1-2) came out looking like a Pac-12 contender at Prentup Field in Boulder on Sunday against the Air Force Falcons (4-2-2).
“We always know Air Force is going to come out and give us a good fight,” said senior captain Amy Barczuk. “We play them every season so they’re not a team to be overlooked and they came out and played really hard in the first half, and we knew in the second half that we needed to pick up our game.”
The first half saw very physical play from both teams, but for the most part the Buffs dominated the flow of the play and kept the ball securely tucked into Air Force’s half of the field. But with 10 girls behind the ball on defense, it was difficult for the Colorado forwards to spread out Air Force and find open space and good shot opportunities in front of the net.
In the 29th minute, junior Hayley Hughes picked off a weak pass from an Air Force defender and was taken down from behind on a breakaway leaving a free kick for the Buffs right outside the penalty box that was skied over the bar by Anne Stuller. It was the best opportunity for Colorado going into the halftime break.
The Buffs had eight total shots in the first half but only three on target with a lot going just over the crossbar. The Buffs only allowed one shot on goal the first half, but they had some trouble keeping the ball in the final third of the field and breaking the goal seal in Sunday’s match. The lack of pride in possession was one of the only major, noticeable concerns from the Air Force match.
“We’re getting into spots and just kind of panicking and shooting from long range instead of building our numbers,” said head coach Danny Sanchez. “We’re getting there and then just kicking it, whereas maybe we could have built more numbers and switched it.”
“As the half wore on our speed of play kind of slowed down and took away some of our chances,” Sanchez continued. “Going into halftime scoreless we were a little bit disappointed, but we knew that as long as we kept creating chances that we would be ok.”
Over and over again in the early minutes of the second half, the Buffs knocked on the door of the goal, getting close chance after close chance until the hour mark when the Buffs pushed through with a goal off of a corner kick. The goal came from sophomore Darcy Jerman on a strong header towards the corner’s near post that beat Air Force’s goalkeeper Kelly Stambaugh.
Jerman’s goal was a good indicator of a lot of emphasis on set plays in practice.
“I think it [set pieces] will be crucial because when we start to get into these tough Pac-12 games that’s going to be the difference maker,” Amy Barczuk said. “Just being able to put those away is very crucial for us.”
Once the first goal went in for the Buffs, Air Force had to step up offensively to try to equalize. A late offensive surge by the Falcons played to the Buffs’ favor by allowing more space to be found on the flanks for the Colorado midfielders and more opportunity to capitalize off of counter-attack opportunities.
Hughes, the girl who always seems to be in the right place at the right time, pulled through again, scoring her second goal of the season off of another Air Force defensive miscue in the 80th minute.
“Annie Stuller played a great ball through and it kind of was bouncing and I knew that the goalkeeper was going to contest it,” Hughes said. “I just ran towards her right foot like our coaches said and was lucky to have it bounce off me and I got pancaked. When I turned, the ball was just there and I put it in with an open net.”
“It was one of those chances that you just have to put away when it’s just you and the goalie,” Hughes said.
This game marked the end of non-conference for the Buffs this season. It’s now time for the girls and Coach Sanchez to begin preparing to play in the immensely talented Pac-12 conference, but this year it’s a different Colorado squad that will take on some of the nation’s finest programs.
“Having momentum going into the Pac-12 is great and to be in the position we are now is awesome,” Barczuk said after the game. “But we also need to realize that these are going to be really tough games coming ahead and we can’t come out playing relaxed [like against Air Force Sunday] against Pac-12 teams.”
Although the Buffs have had a tremendous season thus far, they have yet to play a game where they were the true underdog, which will be the case for most of the games the remainder of the season but will also be their motivation against the Pac-12 powerhouses.
“We’re really excited for Pac-12 play,” said junior forward Anne Stuller. “It’s a tough conference and we know we’re the underdogs and we’re going to play with a chip on our shoulder all season. We also know that we’re 0-0 now and non-conference doesn’t mean anything, so we have to prove ourselves and it starts with Oregon.”
The Buffs next matchup is next Friday Sep. 21 at 5 p.m. (MST) as the women’s soccer team travels to Eugene, Ore. to take on the Ducks (4-2-1).