When soccer coach Bill Hempen slammed the gate as he exited Prentup Field during the University of Colorado’s matchup with Oregon, it was clear to all in attendance that a difficult season for the Buffs had just reached its boiling point.
Hempen was issued a red card after a shouting match with officials when they started play as CU’s Bianca Jones, one of the Buffs’ three healthy defenders, was doubled over in pain. The game was a microcosm of Colorado’s season. CU possessed the ball for the majority of the game and held a 10-2 advantage in corner kicks, but still managed to lose fairly decisively, by a score of 3-1.
“It’s just a shame, watching them give that kind of effort [and still lose],” says Hempen. “If we get anything out of this season, it’s all those little girls who watch these kids play hard. I’m hoping somebody’s getting something out of it.”
The loss on Sunday moved the Buffs back to 0-5-1 in the Pac-12. The competition only stiffens as CU goes on the road to take on a tough California team before they hit Palo Alto to face Stanford, the number one team in the nation.
If there are any positives going into what will most likely be a long weekend for Hempen and his Buffs, it’s that CU gets defender/forward Hayley Hughes back after she served her one-game suspension for her red card against Washington State. CU had hoped Hughes would return for the Oregon game, appealing the red card to the Pac-12 office. The conference ruled that the foul did not merit a red card, but Hughes still had to sit on Sunday.
“You take one of your best players off the park,” Hempen says of Hughes’ absence. “Then Caroline gets hurt.
They carry her off. They carry [outside back Amy] Steiner off, and now we’re literally down to one sub. Yet we still find a way [to compete], because they know that’s it. There’s nowhere to turn, so they keep playing hard.”
CU’s struggles can be attributed to their performance near both goals. One of the Ducks’ goals came on a penalty kick that was a result of a handball in the box on a non-threatening cross along the top of the 18-yard box. Colorado’s inability to finish is the result of a lack of a creative force in the Buffs’ attacking midfield and forwards, although the emergence of speedy walk-on freshman Storie Ledger is starting to change that.
A shining star from Sunday is Annie Stuller, Colorado’s most consistent forward, who volunteered to play center back against Oregon. Stuller performed quite well, especially considering it was her first experience at the position at the collegiate level. Her stellar and selfless performance earned respect from her teammates.
“The other day at practice our defense wasn’t doing very well, so Bill said, ‘Who wants to step up,’” says senior Kate Russell, who scored the Buffs’ only goal of the game. “Our leading forward volunteered to step into the back, so we had her at center back, and she did a great job back there.”
The bottom line is the 2011 season has been fairly devoid of any semblance of luck for the Buffaloes. Unfortunately, as luck would have it for CU, their final five games come against tough teams, and only two will be held within the friendly confines of Prentup Field.
“We’ve had so many games that we’re clearly in and that we can clearly win,” says Russell. “It is discouraging when we’re missing those opportunities to come out on top.”