Denver women’s soccer at a crossroads

Photo: Denver women take the field in Vail against Northern Colorado Monday afternoon. Denver won the opener in the 88th minute, 1-0, on a goal by freshman Maya Roston.

For the longest time, Denver women’s soccer was DU’s featured Fall sport, reaching a peak in 2013 when they completed a 20-2-1 season. That season ended with a first round NCAA Tournament loss to Colorado at CIBER Field in front of 1,394 fans.  The following February, USA Today named DU as one of the top 10 places to play women’s soccer.

It seemed like the sky was the limit for the Pioneers. 

Since then, the Pioneers have staggered to a 22-29-5 record over the past three seasons. In 2015, the squad went their first 8 games without a goal and started out the next season by getting shut out in 4 of their first 5 games. During 2015 and 2016, Denver finished dead last in the Colorado Cup which features the top women’s collegiate soccer programs in the state of Colorado.

Why? How could one of DU’s athletic jewels decline so quickly?

The key factors for the slide include injuries, departures, recruiting, and quality of play, not to mention that regional collegiate soccer programs have elevated their games at the same time. Offense has been a major issue and Denver has been unable to land strikers who can score like former stars Kirsten Hamilton, Taryn Hemmings, and Nicholette DiGiacomo. The University of Colorado has emerged as the Rocky Mountain region’s women’s soccer power by winning their last three contests against Denver and are signing the best local talent. Even Colorado College has gotten the best of DU in their last two matches.

During the same time, DU men’s soccer has built itself into a national powerhouse, pulling even more oxygen away from the women’s program. Head Coach Jeff Hooker (327-135-43) didn’t forget how to coach over the last three years, but it is clear that other area programs have made up ground.

Even Summit League opponents have recently given Denver fits, especially South Dakota State and North Dakota State. Omaha just hired a solid head coach from their men’s side, Tim Walters, and the Mavs are sure to be improved this year as well. So a Summit League tournament win is no guarantee to mask any regular season shortfalls.

With only one new freshman striker, Macee Barlow, most scoring will have to come from returning players. That, and solid midfield play and sound defense in front of sophomore keeper Brittany Wilson. This year’s challenge is easy: short on wins the last three years, the program must prove the recent past has been an aberration and the best is still yet to come for DU women’s soccer.