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Season Recap: A Trophy and a Trip to the NCAAs Has Denver Back On Track

Dec. 6, 2017

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DENVER – When 26th-year head coach Jeff Hooker sat down with his leadership group in the winter after the 2016 campaign, the University of Denver women’s soccer team developed “The Page”. Entering the season with a senior class that hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament, the Pioneers were as determined as ever to get back to dancing for the first time since 2013.

Denver’s senior class did just that!

When the program’s NCAA fate was on the line in November in the Summit League Tournament it was three goals from two seniors that propelled the Pioneers to their first Summit League Tournament crown in four years.

Summit League Offensive Player of the Year Jessie Dancy (Park City, Utah) shot out of a cannon in her final year with the program, scoring 14 goals and adding three assists in 21 matches to lead Denver in scoring. The Denver senior, who entered 2017 with two goals in 51 matches in her first three years in Crimson and Gold, finished the campaign 11th in the country in goals (14), 25th in points (31) and 22nd in game-winning goals (5).

Dancy’s five game-winning goals in the campaign included two in Summit League regular season play and the only goal of the Summit League Semifinals 59 seconds in against Oral Roberts. The Denver senior’s 14th and final goal of the season came 32 minutes into the Summit League Final to give the Pioneers the first-half lead. Following a North Dakota State equalizer in Fargo in the final, Denver turned to another senior for the game-winner. Summit League Tournament MVP Angelica Pacheco (Taos, N.M.) was that senior, netting the fourth goal of her career and her first of the season in the 85th minute to take the Pioneers back to the NCAA’s.

Denver’s other two seniors, a co-captain outside back in Makenzie Bothner (Park City, Utah) and a senior winger in Riley Welch (Littleton, Colo.) played and started in all 21 matches for the Pioneers. Welch distributed three assists, including two in Summit League play. Bothner played 1901 minutes on a backline that allowed just 106 shots, the fewest shots per game in the Summit League (5.04/game).

The Crimson and Gold got off to a great start in 2017, winning their two opening weekend Colorado Cup matches for the first time since 2013. It was just the sixth time in Denver’s Division I history that the Pioneers started 2-0 and unbeaten in its first four. Denver logged a lot of minutes in the opening few weeks of the campaign, heading to extra time in four of its first six. The Pioneers would go on to lose to Colorado in the Colorado Cup finale to finish third in this year’s edition of the tournament.

Following a 3-0-1 start where the Pioneers didn’t have to leave the state, Denver played four of its next six on the road against a strong non-league schedule and entered Summit League play at the end of September at 4-6-1.

Denver began its 2016 Summit League regular season title defense against the two teams that tied for second in the Summit League Preseason Poll, splitting the opening weekend against South Dakota State (L, 2-1 – a.e.t.) and North Dakota State (W, 3-0). Denver’s only other blemish in a stretch of winning five of its last six also came in extra time at Oral Roberts (2-1).

The Pioneers entered the 2017 Summit League Tournament coming off its most dramatic victory of the regular season, a 3-2 win at Fort Wayne. On a miserably cold and rainy Midwestern night, Dancy netted her 12th of the season with 17 seconds to go to give Denver the No. 2 seed in Fargo the following weekend.

On another cold weekend in Fargo, sophomore Brittany Wilson (Littleton, Colo.) kept a five-save cleansheet in the semifinal win over Oral Roberts, and made four saves and allowed just a penalty kick goal in the final to join Dancy, Pacheco and freshman holding mid Brittney Lewis (Centennial, Colo.) on the Summit League All-Tournament Team.

Denver drew a Colorado team for the third-straight time in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and fell to the University of Colorado 2-1 at Prentup Field. The Pioneers took a lead into the locker room through Leah Swander’s (Grand Junction, Colo.) third of the season, but two goals in 2:19 carried the home side to the second round.

Swander is one of three juniors set to be seniors for the 2018 Pioneers, joining 2017 co-captain Mary DeWalt (West Bend, Wisc.) and defender Cristiana Behnken (Ogden, Utah). 2017 junior Hannah Bricker (Fort Collins, Colo.) who scored on two free kicks this season for Denver is graduating early and will not return next season.

Hooker was without half of his first-choice centerback pairing for the second half of the campaign after sophomore centerback Cheyenne Shorts (Denver, Colo.) missed the Summit League portion of the schedule and beyond with a jaw injury suffered at UC Santa Barbara. It was Shorts that played her pre-collegiate career with three of Denver’s 2017 freshmen starters in their time with the Colorado Storm.

Denver played seven of its eight freshmen in 2017, having lost Malak Rafik (Parker, Colo.) to a spring season injury. Lewis started all 21 matches in the Denver midfield, Taylor Parker (Aurora, Colo.) started all 19 matches she played in, having missed two with an upper-body injury and Meg Halvorson (Englewood, Colo.) started 20 of the 21 matches she played in Denver’s midfield.

Freshman Macee Barlow (Las Vegas, Nev.) played in 19 matches, starting in three of them, and scoring a pair of goals, including an equalizer at Fort Wayne. Classmates Kara Bean (Savage, Minn.) and Maya Roston (Newport Coast, Calif.) combined to play 26 matches off the bench for Denver, bringing Denver’s total freshman field player appearances to 106 (63 starts) divided amongst six players who played key minutes for the Pioneers. 

After leading Denver in goals (four), assists (four) and points (12) in her freshman season, sophomore Hannah Adler (Oak Park, Calif.) picked up right where she left off, finishing second on the team with 22 points on nine goals and four assists. The Summit League First Team selection scored back-to-back game winners against Omaha and Western Illinois in Summit League play, and had a five point (2G-1A) match against Albany (five of her seven points that weekend) to earn the Denver playmaker National Team of the Week honors.

Following three-straight seasons without one player getting to five goals, Halvorson made it three Pioneers to reach the five goal mark in 2017 with her 12-point season out of the Denver midfield. The 2017 Summit League Freshman of the Year scored the most goals (5) by a Denver freshman since Kristen Hamilton scored seven in the 2010 campaign. Halvorson distributed one of her two assists on the season on Dancy’s opener in the Summit League Final to help lead Denver to the trophy.

Denver sophomore Heather Turcios (Azusa, Calif.) made 18 appearances for the Pioneers in 2017, starting three matches in Denver’s defense, while junior defender Cristiana Behnken (Ogden, Utah) was limited to just six matches (four starts), before missing the rest of the season due to injury.

Heading into another offseason, Hooker has his sights set on advancing to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the program reached the Round of 16 in 2012. The Pioneers will look to pull off the 2018 Summit League double with six returning starters and a young returning corps with a year of experience already in the bag.

Denver will announce its 2018 freshmen class in February.

Student-Athlete Alumni Giving Challenge:
In 2017-18, the University of Denver is holding an alumni giving challenge in an effort to increase student-athlete alumni participation in the Denver Athletics Annual Fund. The sport program with the highest percentage of alumni participation will receive an additional $10,000 of support through the generosity of an anonymous donor. Former student-athletes can make a gift online, by calling 303-871-2388 during normal business hours or by sending a check to: Athletics Development Office
Attn: Kaley Rickert
2201 E. Asbury Avenue 
Denver, CO 80208  

PIONEER MOVEMENT: 
Fans interested in making a donation to the women's soccer program can do so by 
clicking here. Your contribution will make a direct impact on the success of YOUR Pioneers. Thank you in advance for your unwavering support of our student-athletes and their quest for excellence.   

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