Where was the bottom this season for DU women’s soccer? Was it finishing last with zero points in the six team Colorado Cup? Was it a 1-4 start in the non-league games? Was it DU’s first seven losses with no goals? Or, was it the 7-0 thrashing they took in Provo, Utah to #1 BYU before starting Summit League play?
Denver was picked 4th during selection of preseason favorites behind North Dakota State, South Dakota State, and Oral Roberts. And, based on a rough early season start, it looked like this would be another difficult season for DU.
DU’s fall flagship program, women’s soccer, looked wobbly. It looked like a replay of 2015 when DU could not buy a goal or a win early in the season. Had Jeff Hooker, DU’s veteran soccer coach, forgotten how to coach and recruit? Had the team forgotten how to win?
Most teams with a start like that would fall apart. But DU adjusted. The Pioneers started to play to their strengths and mix and match different line-ups. They switched keepers, inserting freshman Brittany Wilson. Slow in the midfield and with no dominant striker, they started playing to their strengths with better passing and ball control, player movement, improving set pieces and creating corners, and taking calculated longer range shots when available.
Winning three out of their first three conference games, two on the road, against the lower half of the conference built their collective confidence. Their most important game, a 0-0 draw at North Dakota State, marked a critical point when the team hung together despite being outplayed – raising the possibility that the Pioneers could compete for the Summit League title. Next, they dropped two contests in a row to Oral Roberts (1-0) and South Dakota State (2-0) which meant they needed to win their final two games for a chance to win the Summit League Championship.
On Friday, they blasted cellar dwelling Fort Wayne 5-0 at CIBER Field. Then, they played a dominant regular season finale against Omaha (5-11-3, 3-4-1 Summit League) on Sunday afternoon (2-0 FINAL) when the Pioneers used early first half and second half goals with a 20-11 shooting barrage to cruise to a senior day victory over the Mavs at CIBER Field.
The cynic can look at DU’s overall record (8-9-1, 5-2-1 Summit League) and conclude that they still underachieved, especially in the Summit League. They will share the crown with North Dakota State (#203 RPI). And, that may be true.
But the real story is about resilience. Their championship is a tribute to the steady coaching of Jeff Hooker and his staff and his players staying together during early season struggles and line-up changes. When many teams would have been playing out the string, the Pioneers stayed together to win one of the more improbable regular season championships in recent memory.
The Summit League Championships will be held at Fargo, North Dakota November 3rd-5th. Denver will be a two-seed.