Colorado soccer experienced a major breakthrough last weekend, defeating California 1-0 on Friday.
Coming into the game without a win for more than a month, the Buffs figured to be a major underdog against a Cal team that was ranked as high as 18th in the nation. CU had to play without two major contributors — Coach Bill Hempen, who served a suspension for a red card earned the previous weekend against Oregon, and starting goalkeeper Annie Brunner, who missed the weekend with an undisclosed injury.
Instead of wallowing in their bad luck, Colorado came out inspired, as Kayla Millar, known as a terrific shotstopper who, like Brunner, is shaky when it comes to handling and distributing the ball, filled in admirably, stopping all six shots she faced. While Millar’s performance epitomized the resilience the Buffs have shown all year, it was the defense that came through with their best performance.
Annie Stuller, who, until a couple weeks ago, played virtually her entire soccer career as a forward, volunteered to play center back, and she didn’t disappoint on Friday, pestering the California attack, which only managed to get six of its 20 shots on target. Bianca Jones also played the whole 90 minutes from her right back position.
The Buffs kept the game scoreless until halftime, and broke through in the 62nd minute. Kate Russell served the ball over the Cal defense for Hayley Hughes, who sped past the Bears’ back line. Emily Kruger, Cal’s goalkeeper, charged at Hughes, who managed to get a slight touch on the ball, which slowly trickled into the back of the net.
“The team is awesome,” said acting head coach Chris Gnehm, who filled in for Hempen Friday. “They have, at every turn, had the same mentality. Everything that comes their way, they’re ready. Whatever it is, they have the will to succeed. They’re a resilient group.”
From Hughes’ goal until the final second, Cal maintained most of the control, including a nail-biting free kick after a CU handball with under 10 seconds to go, but Millar and the defense came up big for the Buffs, who celebrated their first Pac-12 win in school history.
The Buffs came out on top in a type of game where they typically end up in second place. Countless times in 2011, Colorado would outshoot their opponent, only to lose, and that Friday, California had double CU’s shot total, but the Buffs managed to find a way to leave Berkeley with a win.
Colorado went from one daunting challenge to another, as they traveled to Palo Alto to face Stanford, the consensus number one team in the nation. The Buffs simply didn’t have the talent to compete with the Cardinal, losing 4-1. Russell scored the Buffs’ lone goal on a penalty kick earned by Stuller.
The Buffs didn’t just lose the game against Stanford, they lost arguably their best player, Amy Barczuk, to a head injury in the first half. Her status for the weekend is questionable.
Colorado closes out the home schedule this weekend against UCLA and USC on Friday and Sunday, respectively.