Rams Soccer begins conference play at home

After playing six of their first seven matches on the road and traveling over 6,000 miles in the process, players and coaches alike are happy to be back on campus. There is a growing excitement for this coming weekend when the Rams get their first two-game home stand as well as beginning their first season of Mountain West Conference play.

“It’s exciting, this is where the season gets really serious, non-conference is where you try to get out all the jitters and bugs before conference play starts,” said sophomore forward Erika Bratschun.

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Up first for the Rams (1-4-2) is a match against Air Force tonight at 4 p.m. The Falcons (1-6-1) enter conference play off of a pair of 1-0 home losses to Drexel and Ball State. For freshman Amy Eckert, it’s a great opportunity to play against the school she grew up around as a native of Colorado Springs where she was named the 2013 Class 4A Player of the Year at nearby Cheyenne Mountain. “It’s exciting to start conference play against a Colorado team, we want to show that we are one of the better teams in the state, and this gives us a chance to do that,” Eckert said. The Rams have four players from Colorado Springs on their roster, but Coach Bill Hempen wouldn’t call it a rivalry between the schools just yet.

“From a rivalry stand point, we don’t have anything to go off of yet but I’m sure it will be an intense match. I hope the intensity we bring to practice transfers to the matches no matter who we are playing,” Hempen said.

CSU will return to the pitch Sunday afternoon against Wyoming at 1 p.m. The Cowgirls (3-5-1) have the chance to come in on a high note if they can upset No.14 Portland on Friday night. If not, Wyoming will have lost five consecutive matches after starting the season 3-1-1. One of the biggest challenges for the Rams will be slowing down Wyoming’s standout attacking forwards. The Cowgirls are paced by 2012 All-Mountain West forwards Lucie McDowell and Sara Paul. McDowell, a senior, leads the Mountain West with five goals while Paul, a junior, leads the conference in assists with five.

“They’re going to get their chances no doubt, but if we can defend as a group, or in twos and threes then that will give us a good chance to contain them,” Hempen said.

The Rams have shown major improvement defensively allowing only three goals in their last four matches after giving up ten goals in their first three. However, CSU has struggled so far this year putting the ball in the net, something Coach Hempen says they have worked on extensively in practice.

“A lot of what we’ve been doing in practice has been working in front of the goal,” Hempen said. “We want them to understand it doesn’t have to be a perfect shot to go in.”

For a first year program, playing their first two conference games at home is a huge boost in confidence after spending most of their non-conference schedule on the road. “Everyone’s hyped up to start at home and be in front of our fans. It’ll be great to have a home crowd there to support is,” Bratschun said.

Keegan Pope has been writing for the Collegian since August 2013. He is a die-hard Broncos, Rockies, and Nuggets fan and is going to miss Todd Helton a lot. He can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter at @kpopecollegian.