When Colorado State started a women’s soccer program last year, a roster of players who were mostly inexperienced with Division 1 soccer was formed through open tryouts. The Rams struggled through their inaugural season, scoring only eight goals and totaling two wins. While head coach Bill Hempen began trying to get the CSU program off the ground, as he had done with great success at Colorado in the early 2000s, he found dependable leadership in three players: Catherine Ruder, Jami Vaughn and Maggie Sherman. Now the team’s sole seniors this year, the trio of in-state players provided a steady foothold from which CSU’s young program began its takeoff.
Both Ruder and Vaughn were recruited to out-of-state Division 1 programs out of high school before Colorado State became a Division I team. Ruder went to play for the San Jose State Spartans as a freshman, while Vaughn traveled east to become a Kansas Jayhawk.
In her first two seasons with the Spartans, Ruder started 33 games and scored three goals, a major contributor as a young player. A three-time all-state selection at Coronado High School in Colorado Springs, Ruder said she was drawn out of state by the idea of living somewhere new.
“I wanted to get out of Colorado and try something new because I knew this is where I eventually wanted to live,” Ruder said. “So I thought I would leave and see how it goes.”
While she enjoyed her time at San Jose, Ruder was forced to transfer after the University dropped its Human Development and Family Studies program, which at the time was Ruder’s major. When she heard Colorado State was starting a soccer program, it became her new destination, following the footsteps of five older brothers who were also all Rams.
Vaughn, a Fort Collins native who led Rocky Mountain High School to a conference championship and quarterfinal state playoff appearance, darted out of state for Kansas as a freshman. In her first season with the Jayhawks, Vaughn started ten matches, helping lead Kansas to an NCAA tournament appearance. She appeared in ten more matches as a sophomore before transferring to Colorado State for her junior season to play for a brand new program.
“It was a big transition, coming from an established team to one that wasn’t at all,” Vaughn said. But she was excited to be a part of the birth of CSU soccer alongside other Fort Collins natives and former high school rivals Megan Speed and Taylor Nelson, as well as Ruder, who she played with on Colorado’s Olympic Development Program under Hempen before college.
“It was cool to see the familiar faces and local talent,” Vaughn said.
The Rams’ third senior this season, Maggie Sherman, had a different path to her spot on CSU’s original Division I roster. Sherman, another in-state student who hails from Vail Mountain School, attended Colorado State initially as freshman, abandoning her chance to play Division I soccer right away. Sherman played for CSU’s club soccer team instead, which she regards as a lively experience.
“I met some of the best friends I have at CSU (playing club),” Sherman said. “I still try to go to their games whenever I can.”
Sherman ended up becoming the Rams’ starting goalkeeper for CSU during her first season as a junior, despite not having tried out for the team as a keeper initially. After a player who was originally supposed to play keeper left the team, Hempen needed someone to step up.
“I told coach I could play goalie if he needed me to,” Sherman said. Without much experience in the net, Sherman was surprisingly welcome to the opportunity to play the position.
“I didn’t know too much about the Division I experience, but emotionally, I had more excitement than anything else,” Sherman recalled. There were some nerves, though. “I knew the level of play was going to be so much higher than anything I had ever played before,” Sherman added.
In the Ram’s first game as a Division I team, Sherman came away with a shutout over Division II Lubbock (TX) Christian. Their next game against Texas Tech ended in an eye-opening 6-0 rout, though.
“That was a bummer. That was when we really saw what the Division I level was,” Sherman said.
Improvements were made by the Rams all season long, especially by Sherman in her new position of goalkeeper.
“Once we got an actual goalie coach and people started helping me out, I was able to get the hang of it better and better,” Sherman said. “When games came up, I jumped in there and did whatever I could do to make the team successful, and if that meant playing goalie, that’s what I was going to do.”
Ruder and Vaughn, players who had time with traditionally successful programs, served as teachers and examples last year for the Rams’ roster of mostly walk-ons and young players. During a season in which the Rams posted a 2-13-3 record, there was an adjustment to make to the new program for Ruder and Vaughn. Despite the challenges of a fresh start, all three seniors remain proud to be CSU Rams.
“I think looking back on it, this experience is going to be great,” Ruder said. “The hard parts about it are going to make it that much better looking back. I’m going to learn a lot from it.”
“It’s been special being the part of the beginning of something here,” Vaughn said. “I’m waiting to see the full effect ten years down the road when we are more established, but being a part of the first team is so special.”
Hempen expressed nothing but extreme gratitude for Ruder’s and Vaughn’s presence on the team.
“My hat is off to those kids,” Hempen said. “They had their options and were in good places. For them to want to come back home to ground zero, that was a pretty big deal for our program. They were players at their respective schools. For them to make that sacrifice for us, a first-year program, that will never go unnoticed in my time here at CSU.”
With their second season underway, Ruder, Vaughn and Sherman have again served as anchors for another inexperienced team. Though the Rams have posted a record of 2-4 so far this season, the team has made gains to compete against programs with winning traditions. As they travel to Montana this weekend for matches with the Montana Grizzlies and Eastern Washington Swoops, the Rams look to continue the success they saw last weekend with an overtime win over College of Charleston.
“It’d be great to have a winning season and go out with a bang to get this program started right,” Ruder stated.
“We want to get this team stepping right before we leave,” Vaughn added.
With their help, it looks like Colorado State will be well on its way there soon.
Collegian Sports Reporter Sam Lounsberry can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @samlounz.