Seniors on Colorado Mesa women's soccer team want a return trip to NCAA playoffs
It’s hard for the seniors on the Colorado Mesa University women’s soccer team to forget the 2011 trip to the NCAA tournament.
The heroics during the final game of the regular season — Jessica Kent scored a last-minute goal to top the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs 3-2 in double overtime — and the resulting celebration are literally plastered on the side of the Maverick Pavilion at CMU. Photos of the historic moment, yards wide, are featured on the outside walls of the indoor practice facility.
That win allowed the Mavericks to host a Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference playoff game, and they reached the RMAC title game before bowing 2-0 to Colorado School of Mines.
The second-place RMAC finish qualified CMU for the NCAA tournament, where the Mavs lost their first-round game.
That postseason experience created a desire for a return trip. It didn’t happen last year, so this year is the seniors’ final chance.
“We’re hungry,” senior midfielder Veronica Rodriguez said. “This group of seniors is very, very hungry.”
The NCAA tournament berth made recruiting easier for CMU coach Erin Sharpe, who has nine additions to the squad this year: six freshmen and three transfers. It’s one of the largest classes she’s had in her six years at CMU.
Sharpe realized the Mavs needed to get deeper after late-season injuries in 2012 to Samantha Burneo, Tayler Franklin and Daniela Salinas revealed the squad’s lack of depth.
“It’s something that we really felt come playoff time, and really affected our success,” she said.
CMU will play to its strengths — a bruising defense and playing smart and aggressive. That style put the Mavs in the upper half of the conference for nearly every team-defense statistic last season.
The challenge for CMU will be to create more scoring chances and goals, as Sharpe said the offense sometimes struggled to score goals last season.
“We’re very attack-oriented, and where we’ve struggled is really scoring more goals,” Sharpe said. “So, that’s becoming more and more of a focus as we’ve been moving forward, and I think that’s reflected in our speed of play, our ability and our overall soccer IQ. We’ve been working in recruiting to up all of those, so we can be as competitive as possible.”
The offense may get a spark from a newcomer, freshman forward Monica Carlos, who has been one of the leading goal-scorers during the early season training. Sharpe said the freshman is making a major push for playing time. Listed at 5-foot-4, the product of Hawaii was a first team all-conference performer in high school and played for a club team that won two national championships.
Other key additions for CMU include two junior-college transfers from Northwest College (Wyo.), Christine Silvestrone and Miriam Gelderloos, who were part of a team that went 10-3 and made a trip to the NJCAA Region IX tournament.
Freshman Taylor Bruno is competing for time in the midfield and defense, a reflection of the 5-foot-8 Californian’s versatility, Sharpe said.
Winning the RMAC tournament for the first time since 1998 is within the Mavericks’ grasp, Sharpe said, but winning won’t come easy in a stacked conference.
The four traditional powerhouses — Regis University, Colorado School of Mines, Fort Lewis and Metro State — will continue their winning ways, Sharpe said. But she predicted CMU will join the fray along with a surging CSU-Pueblo and up-and-coming Colorado Christian University.
That led to Sharpe to make a bold claim.
“The RMAC is the most competitive conference in the country,” she said. “The California conferences are a very close second, but even there, there’s a gap between the bottom teams and the teams at the top. (The RMAC) bottom teams are losing by just a goal most times.”
CMU opens play at Walker Field against Midwestern State (Texas) today and Texas A&M-Commerce on Sunday.