Whenever an entirely new Division I program is started at a university, there are bound to be some rough spots along the road for that team before it catches up to speed with its opponents. CSU’s women’s soccer startup was no exception, as shown by the Rams’ 6-23-3 record in their first two seasons.
But if the first two games of this season are any indication of what is to come as the year progresses, this could be the year Fort Collins soccer fans have been waiting for.
Though they saw a win slip through their fingers Friday against CU in their season opener, giving up a late goal to the Buffs for a 1-1 tie, the Rams have nothing to be ashamed of. They attracted a record-breaking crowd to the Lagoon and held off a CU team coming off a historic season in double overtime in front of it. The Buffs placed a program-best third in the Pac-12 last year, advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament and returned its leader in goals and assists in Brie Hooks.
Giving them all they could handle on Friday was a big step forward for CSU’s program.
Sunday might have been an even bigger one. With a victory over Denver University, the Rams began the first undefeated streak in CSU soccer history. It was against the team that took second in the Summit League last season and was ranked as the No. 1 school to play women’s soccer at by a USA Today poll earlier this year. These Rams might be on their way toward a breakout season, and have every reason to be excited.
“It was the first time in a weekend we haven’t been sad,” head coach Bill Hempen said at practice Tuesday morning.
Success is addicting. The drive to keep improving should only be augmented with this early taste of victory. Though a win over DU on an own goal may not sound as successful as a Ram blasting one past the keeper for the win, the situation was still set up by CSU’s offense. Plays ending with a fortuitous bounce into the net happen, but they happen because the offense gets to the right spot at the right time.
“They understand who they are,” Hempen said of his players. “They accept what they have to do to succeed. We have reinforcements … kids that can go in and give us some quality moments out there that allow us to make ourselves have the bounce go our direction.”
In his first two seasons, Hempen lacked those types of reinforcements that let players stay rested enough to beat opponents to balls. Defender Jami Vaughn, who graduated after last season, played every minute of every game in her two-year CSU career. Rest for defenders Catherine Ruder and Megan Speed, along with midfielder Giana Bertana, was nearly as rare in 2014.
But now that he has had two full off-seasons to bring in recruits, Hempen’s roster may be approaching a talent level capable of getting this program up and running with a full head of steam. He was sending subs flying in and out during Friday’s game at the Lagoon.
“I think the players we have brought in have added to the competitiveness, not just in games but in training as well,” Hempen said. “We are excited as a staff about where we are, but we also know there is plenty to improve, and the good thing for me is I know they’re capable of that improvement.”
He’s been fast at turning around programs before. Hempen became a soccer legend in the state when he took CU from a 3-11-1 record in 2001 to a Big 12 Championship by 2003 in just his third season with the Buffs.
We will see if the third time’s the charm again for Hempen with the Rams.
Collegian Assistant Sports Editor Sam Lounsberry can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @samlounz.