denverpioneers.com // BOULDER, Colo. - The University of Denver women's soccer team took a first-half lead, but Colorado responded with two goals on the other side of the intermission to give the Buffaloes a 2-1 win over the Pioneers in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday afternoon at Prentup Field.
"Coming off the Summit League Championships, I thought we had a lot of confidence, and it really showed in the first half," head coach Jeff Hookersaid. "I thought that we had our way in the midfield for a majority of the first half, and we just went away from the movement and other stuff that made us successful. I think we lost our patience a little bit at the beginning of the second half, and missed the simple pass, giving them a few more opportunities. Obviously we're disappointed in the result, but I thought the team put in a performance to be proud of today."
Junior forward Leah Swander (Grand Junction, Colo.) opened the scoring in the 38th minute off a well-timed and paced through ball from sophomore attacking midfielder Hannah Adler (Oak Park, Calif.). The Summit League first team selection picked the ball up in the center of the park, and played in Swander behind the Buffs back line. Swander got on the end of the pass in the center of the box, and calmly passed it into the bottom left corner.
Denver kept the majority of the possession in the opening 45 minutes, but Colorado outshot the Pioneers 6-3 in the first half, with each goalkeeper being forced into a save in the frame.
Colorado got five shots at Wilson's goal in the first seven minutes of the second half, scoring on two of the chances. CU's Megan Massey equalized in the 50th minute off assists from Kelsey Aaknes and Taylor Kornieck. Massey's goal was her fourth of the campaign, as she picked up a deflected pass in the center of the area and smashed it into the upper left corner.
Kornieck gave the home side the 2-1 edge in the 52nd minute with her seventh goal of the season. The CU sophomore finished from inside the area off build-up play from Marty Puketapu and Massey.
In the 69th minute, sophomore goalkeeper Brittany Wilson (Littleton, Colo.) made a world class save to stop Kornieck from doubling the Buffs second half lead. The Denver sophomore dove to her left and got two hands on it to force it outside the post.
"We wanted to make sure we kept them loose all week in practice," Hooker said. "We didn't even really talk about Colorado until Friday, and we decided to come out in a 4-3-3 instead of the 4-4-2 that we have been playing. I thought the team really bought into that formation and it paid off with all the possession that we had there in the first half."
Denver's best chance at an equalizer came in the 86th minute when Swander nearly netted her second, but her shot from distance rattled off the underside of the crossbar. Senior Angelica Pacheco (Taos, N.M.) followed up the chance, but couldn't get on the end of it before CU keeper Jalen Tompkins came off her line and grabbed it.
The Pioneers got back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2013 season on Saturday, making this the first appearance in the NCAA Tournament for Denver's senior class. Saturday's appearance was Hooker's 10th overall, including a Round of 16 trip in the 2012 season. The stretch marked the longest NCAA Tournament drought since Denver's first three years in Division I from 1998-2000.
"You get spoiled when the expectation of the program there for a while was to compete for an at-large bid every year," Hooker said. "When it's taken away from you, you count on your seniors to get you back. They did a really good job of leading this team in the summer and over the course of the fall season. We had two bad defeats, at Santa Barbara and against Colorado, and we did a good job of staying the course and not losing our focus. I'm proud of this group for getting back to the NCAA Tournament. They represented us well today. When you're out of the tournament for a few years it reminds you how special it is to get to the postseason."
ABOUT THE SUMMIT LEAGUE
Through 35 years of Division I athletics, The Summit League offers 19 championship sports and has a combined enrollment of nearly 100,000 at eight institutions, including three located in top 60 U.S. metro populations and two land-grant universities. Member institutions include: Denver (University of Denver), Fort Wayne (Indiana University-Purdue University-Fort Wayne), North Dakota State University, Omaha (University of Nebraska Omaha), Oral Roberts University, the University of South Dakota, South Dakota State University and Western Illinois University with the University of North Dakota becoming an official member on July 1, 2018. Previously known as the Mid-Continent Conference, The Summit League rebranded in 2007 and has since produced nine NCAA Champions along with over 90 Academic All-Americans, nearly 100 All-America selections and numerous former student-athletes competing at the highest professional level. For more information about the league, visit www.thesummitleague.org website, follow The Summit League on Twitter @thesummitleague.