BOULDER - Danny Sanchez concedes there could be much more difficult transitions - geographically, socially and in a lot of other ways - than his. For starters, his old job was only a couple of hours driving time north on I-25, and as he observed in his office Wednesday morning, "A lot of people commute two hours to work every day."
Sanchez won't be required to do that, although he's not yet permanently settled in the Boulder area. His family (wife Beth, sons Cole and Drew) remain in Laramie, Wyo., where he coached the women's soccer team at the University of Wyoming for the past four seasons.
Colorado hired him in that same capacity last December, and in what he terms "a perfect world," his kids will finish school in June, his house in Laramie will sell, another will be purchased in this area, and the Sanchez family can get serious about relocating to the state it left. "They'll come down either way," he said, "but hopefully we'll have the house sold and find something down here."
Sanchez liked Laramie: "Great place to raise a family . . . your kids would go outside, you'd whistle and they come in for dinner." And coaching at Wyoming wasn't bad either: "Real people working there, and the people in the state took pride in everything that happens (at the university)."
Well, almost everything. Sanchez still has a difficult time labeling Wyoming as a "soccer state," which made the move back to Colorado and CU more appealing. Prior to Wyoming, he'd spent six seasons at Metro State College, winning a pair of Division II national championships (2004, 2006). His 17 years in coaching have produced a 267-60-23 record, including 36-34-11 at Wyoming. The Cowgirls were 12-6-4 last season, the school's best record ever, and lost 1-0 to New Mexico in the Mountain West Conference championship game).
Sanchez and his staff - assistants Don Trentham, Jason Green and Nicole Rice (volunteer) - are in the midst of evaluating 17 returning players during a seven-game spring schedule. They've played two, with the first pair of the remaining five occurring at home Saturday in a doubleheader against Northern Colorado and Colorado College. The first game is at 9 a.m.
Since practices began in late February, Sanchez has seen hard work and upbeat attitudes. "I've been doing this long enough to know their first inclination is to please the new coach and his staff," he said. "But they've worked hard and had the proper mindset and done what we've asked."
Amy Barczuk "has natural leadership qualities and wants to have a good senior year . . . she'll do whatever takes to make it happen," he said. Sophomore Alex Dohm is about "75 percent recovered" from an ACL injury last season but hasn't missed a training session, he said, adding, "I'm pleased with everybody right now, but our bigger challenge will be incorporating all the players coming in this fall into this group."
And it must be done in a hurry. From the initial Aug. 1 training session to the start of Colorado Cup play on Aug. 17 is "not a lot of time to get them sorted," Sanchez said. "It's important that returning players are on the same page and know what we're all about."
But that's one of the things spring soccer is all about. Winning always is nice, but this time of year - particularly for a first-year coach who will see his roster undergo an almost total makeover this summer - evaluations are the top priority.
"We're looking at individuals - which of these players can help us compete and move up the ladder in the Pac-12," he said. "We want to play well as a team, but we also realize that half of the team is coming in in August. So this isn't the team . . . it's an opportunity for these 17 players to get a jump on those players and when push comes to shove and we open conference play at Oregon (this fall), they're going to be on the field and be major contributors.
"Sometimes when you play games you lose sight of that, but the games are when you can really test these players and see what they're all about. We've been pleased with their focus, their energy, how they've bought into everything we've done. At this point it's about seeing who can help us."
At least 14 players will come aboard in August, six of them on scholarship. But don't jump to any conclusions based on the scholarship count; Sanchez expects all to contribute. "It's not like football and walk-ons," he said. "We expect all of them to perform."
After discussions with his staff, Sanchez honored the scholarship commitments that prospects made to CU and former coach Bill Hempen. Said Sanchez: "I just think it's the right thing to do. Recruiting in women's soccer is unique; it's very far out (in years). Opportunities and scholarships get snatched up earlier and earlier. So if you cut the '12s or even '13s, there's not a lot of opportunities left. The comforting part with all these recruits is they're coming because this is where they want to go to school, first and foremost. They want to be part of the Boulder community and (CU).
"Soccer is very important but that wasn't the only reason they came . . . we know this is where they want to be. I think that will help with the transition as you bring in all these players that 'you didn't recruit.' But at the end of the day I would recruit Amy Barczuk, Alex Dohm (and others) . . . I'm glad those players are here and they decided to stay."
In their first season of Pac-12 Conference play, the Buffs finished 1-9-1 (4-13-2 overall) and tied Arizona for 11th place. Sanchez believes there are players on the roster and others arriving that can help pull CU at least into the middle of the Pac. Reigning national champ Stanford is "the class of the country . . . really the class of the class."
But he believes the Buffs, if they're "smart, organized and play," can immediately begin working their way up. "I just don't think there's that wide a gap that maybe was shown this year. But we also want to show future recruits that the program is moving in the right direction. That's our main objective; we know this is the toughest conference in the country, top to bottom. There's no easy ones in there, but we also know we can play better.
"When you finish tied for last in the Pac-12 there's only one way to go - and I think that's motivation for a lot of these players, especially the seniors. That's not how they want to go out. But we also want to show there's progress in the program so we can talk Pac-12, the history of Colorado soccer that has been to the NCAA Tournament six years in a row (2003-08), has been to the Sweet 16 (2006), to recruits. Most of them were in the fourth grade when that happened, but we want them to see that there's progress being made."
Sanchez and his staff have put "a lot of focus" on recruiting for the Class of 2014-15 and have gotten good vibes from prospects who have made unofficial campus visits. He hopes to scour Colorado first and keep the best talent inside the state borders, but he's not opposed to heading east, west or out of the country to recruit. He believes CU shouldn't be a difficult sell - "People want to come here" - and that the school's numerous attributes are enhanced now by its Pac-12 membership.
"It's the Conference of Champions . . . our level of competition has gone up, but players at the highest level want to play against the best," he said. "A lot of the younger kids don't know the Pac-12 from the Big 12 from the ACC. But when we say who we're playing against, it's, 'Oh, OK.' They've heard of all of them and know they're in great places to be in. It hasn't hurt, let's put it that way.
"There's a CU graduate/parent in every state of the union and we hear from most of them. But there's a lot of schools between here and Vermont. We realize that . . . I think that regionally we realize we'll have a little more (recruiting) success - just like in any sport. But we've been well-received everywhere. You say University of Colorado and you're at least in the conversation. You don't win all of those conversations, but at least you're in them."
For now, that's a good start. But as Sanchez knows, winning the conversations and what comes next - the recruiting battles, then the games - are what make good finishes.