BOULDER--There's something new about the University of Colorado soccer team. It's not just the new coaching staff or the 12 new players. It's the feeling going into Pac-12 Conference play, as the Buffaloes take on Oregon on Friday at 5 p.m. (MT).
In the team's inaugural year in the Conference of Champions, the Buffs posted a 4-13-2 overall record. Just one season later, the Buffs completed the non-conference portion with just one loss in nine games.
Its 6-1-2 record this season marks only the fifth time in program history that CU has opened with at least six non-conference wins (the most recent was a 7-1-1 start in 2008), and a strong defensive presence has been a driving factor. Under new head coach Danny Sanchez, the Buffs' backline is already breaking records.
CU began the season with a five-game unbeaten streak. The Buffs shut out five opponents, including their two most recent, Wyoming and Air Force. It was also the first time in program history the Buffs began a season with three consecutive shut outs.
Junior goalkeeper Annie Brunner has been a dominate force in the box for the Buffs. She says assistant coach Don Trentham, who came from the University of Wyoming with Sanchez and fellow assistant Jason Green, has been a great instructor for CU's veteran backline.
"He thinks we might be on our way to setting a record," Brunner says. "That's the goal so far. It's a pretty cool feeling."
That goal is already being accomplished. Brunner, who was named the Pac-12 Conference Player of the Week (August 13-19) and most recently, the CU co-Athlete of the Week (September 10-16) is quickly moving her way up the record books.
Her name appears twice at the sixth spot on CU's list of most shutouts in a single season, also tallying five in 2010. She's tied with Kara Linder (2006-09) for third most shutouts all time (12). With 17 wins in her career, she ranks fourth amongst CU goalies.
She's third in the Pac-12 with 31 saves and with UCLA's Katelyn Rowland, leads the conference in shutouts.
The Buffs have scored 16 goals (compared to last season's total of 21). Brunner has allowed just eight, but refuses to take all the credit. She says that Lizzy Herzl, Quinn Krier, Bianca Jones and captain Amy Barczuk have been fantastic in the young season.
"Basically I think they're the ones who deserve the credit for all the shutouts so far," Brunner says. "I guess I fully rely on them (laughs). They've been awesome."
Strong communication between the players and the coaching staff also deserves credit.
"It's been really big this year," sophomore Bianca Jones says. "We've been working on it all throughout pre-season, and it's finally clicking just in time for Pac-12 play."
The Buffs are hoping that communication and a little confidence will help the team show strength among the top tier teams of the conference.
"We've had a pretty solid start to the season," Barczuk says. "I think it's prepared us well for the tough competition we have ahead, especially defensively. I think we've developed some really great chemistry in the back. I think that will really come in handy when we play those top teams in the Pac-12."
Jones says last season felt like a bit of a mystery, heading into a conference with some teams the Buffs had never even faced before. Now, the Buffs are more familiar with the Pac-12's style of play, and Barczuk says the team knows its strengths and weaknesses.
It's not just experience in conference play that will come in handy, it's the experience of the veteran back. Barczuk has seen her position on the field change this season, but has stepped up to the coaching staff's high expectations for her.
"I just feel that being a senior and being experienced that I really need to help the younger players and all the freshmen step up into those roles that we need help with on the field," Barczuk says. "My team makes it really easy on me, and I don't really have to do much. It's been a pretty fun year so far."
While Barczuk is modest about her leadership, Brunner is quick to point out the team relies on Barczuk more than she thinks.
Danny Sanchez also sees how big of an impact Barczuk has made this season, but knows that everything the Buffs have accomplished has been a team effort. He says that in his 17 years of being a head coach, this is only the second time he's had just one captain.
"I think she's done a really good job of playing a different role for us, leading our backs and leading our defense," Sanchez says. "On the same breath, our other seniors and some juniors have shown great leadership as well. It's not a one-man show. I think the seniors have all done very well, all six of them. I've been really pleased with what they've kind of given to the new staff and obviously with all the new freshmen coming in. They've really bought in and set good examples for them."
Sanchez likes his team's mentality and believes they continue to improve. Having the players believe in the program and the philosophy of the coaching staff is even more important as the Buffs begin conference play, and with it, face a slew of attacking players as their competition.
Sanchez says the season really starts on Friday in Eugene, Ore. It's rapid fire play, and the Buffs don't have time to dwell on any one win or loss.
"I think this year they know the challenges," Sanchez says. "Big picture, we're the underdog in every match if you really look at it. We have to have that mentality of 'we're going to have to battle, and we're going to have to fight' to get results in Pac-12 play. We realize that, and we've been talking about that since last January. Our mentality hasn't changed at all."
Don't miss your next chances to stand Shoulder to Shoulder with the CU Soccer team as they return to Prentup Field on Friday, September 28 and Sunday, September 30. On Friday, September 28 the Buffs take on Washington at 3 p.m. in their first Pac-12 home match of the season! To finish up the weekend they will face Washington State on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Be sure to stick around after Sunday's game as there will be a special autograph session with the team! Remember general admission and parking are FREE for CU Soccer games.