Postseason focus

Seniors on Colorado Mesa women's
soccer team want a return trip to NCAA playoffs

Samantha Burneo is one of the key defensive players for the Colorado Mesa women’s soccer team. The defense will again be strong for the Mavs, but coach Erin Sharpe hopes to get more offense from her team in 2013.



QUICKREAD

Key Returning Players

Leilani Wiernicki, sr., D — Captain of defense and first team All-RMAC player last season.

Sarah Pope, soph., F — Led the Mavericks with six goals and five assists last season.

Sarah Schnetzler, jr., GK — Started 18 games, allowing 1.54 goals per game.

Samantha Burneo, sr., D — Three-time All-RMAC defender and an all-region selection two years ago.

“There’s no drama this year, and they’re a great group of girls that are excited and ready to play. It’s more of a family atmosphere. Our whole motto this year is ‘no regrets,’ so that’s what we’re doing.”

Samantha Burneo, sr., defender

“Our expectation is to finish first or second in the RMAC. We all share those expectations, and we’re ready to work hard to get there.”

Tayler Franklin, sr., midfielder

“We’ve had the goal to win the RMAC and make the (NCAA) tournament, and this group of seniors have come up short twice. I think this group is hungry to make it to the (NCAA) tournament and to get the top spot in the RMAC.”

Veronica Rodriguez, sr., midfielder

RECRUITING PIPELINE

Colorado Mesa University women’s soccer coach Erin Sharpe said recent success, including an NCAA tournament appearance two years ago, has helped the Mavericks recruit.

Sharpe said high school players in one of the most competitive soccer recruiting markets in the country, Northern California, are more aware of CMU now. Also helping develop a pipeline to that region is Sharpe’s previous experience as a high school club soccer coach in California.

“There are several factors that really play into my ability to recruit well (in California),” Sharpe said. “If you’re looking at California in particular, it’s actually cheaper for California players to come to Colorado Mesa, rather than staying and having to pay in-state tuition and fees at a California school.

“The Allegiant Airline flights straight from Grand Junction to Los Angeles or even (Las) Vegas, where there are a ton of connecting flights, has really connected us to the West at an affordable rate. I do have a lot of coaching connections (in California), and there’s just a great concentration of talent in the women’s game of soccer out West.

“I’d even include Colorado when I say West. But the teams (on the Front Range) have a competitive advantage over me when it comes to recruiting (in Colorado), because they can go out on any Tuesday they want and scout any Denver player they want. I seem to have a competitive advantage out West, because again, the ease of getting out (to California) direct from Grand Junction, and my connections out there. It’s a matter of playing to strengths.”



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.


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