When Sian Hudson took command of a broken University of Colorado at Colorado Springs women’s soccer program in January, her first mission was to fix the culture.
Once that was established, the Wales native and longtime Colorado Springs coach and executive at the collegiate, club and semi-professional levels realized only a scant few agreed with her raised expectations, not nearly enough to field a competitive team for the following season.
So it was time to build a new team, and the outfit hasn’t only responded and risen to Hudson’s standards, but also engineered a historic run through their NCAA Division II playoff journey that continues at 10 a.m. Thursday in a semifinal contest when the Mountain Lions (17-4-1) meet Carson-Newman (20-0) at Swope Soccer Village in Kansas City, Mo.
“I came into a situation where the expectations were low, and I needed to reshape and remold the team,” Hudson said. “I had to bring in as many new recruits and transfers as we possibly could. We ended up with 19 or 20 new players. We had a lot of new talent coming in but was a case of how quickly we could pull it together. Typically, a college roster changes over 20-25 percent from year to year. We had 75 percent.”
Using her vast resources from 15 years of coaching experience in Colorado Springs, Hudson cast a net far and wide, putting out feelers to the many talented club players from she had kept in touch with. Some had grown disenchanted with their programs, while others just wanted a fresh start at a place much closer to home.
Tarah Patterson, for example, graduated early from Sand Creek in late 2015 to get her college career jump-started at Washington State. But the midfielder suffered a torn knee ligament before she ever played a game for the Cougars then pondered her future while in her redshirt year.
She realized her future wasn’t in the Pacific Northwest anymore. Especially when she realized her coach with Pride Predators was now in charge at UCCS.
“I had an injury and things changed,” Patterson said. “I wanted to come back home, and UCCS was the right place. When I was figuring out where to transfer, Sian was the only one who was helping me. It helped that I was familiar with her and her system and style of play.”
Healthy and back home, Patterson has thrived, leading the Mountain Lions in goals (nine), assists (four), points (22), shots on goal (37) and game-winning goals (five), but is far from the only impact player reeled in by Hudson.
Chanisse Hendrix (six goals) and Anna Gregg (five) transferred from Colorado College, where Hudson spent the previous two seasons as an assistant coach, soon to be joined by local products Alessa Muir (TCA) and Madison Tominello (Palmer Ridge), who reunited with their former club coach.
Then there are greenhorns in Kelsey Lanham (five goals) and Tori Maydew (three), two of the eight freshmen Hudson quickly pursued and signed to letters of intent just weeks following her hiring.
Later, Hudson, who from 2002-15 was the senior girls director of coaching at Pride Soccer Club and also served as head coach of Pride Predator teams, took flyers on several of her Pride alumni who had walked away from competitive soccer.
Caitlin Esterle, a Pine Creek graduate, signed with Colorado State two years ago but missed both seasons after a pair of ACL injuries. Savannah Boarman helped Cheyenne Mountain win two 4A state titles and two years before transferred to UCCS from Fort Lewis College to focus solely on nursing. Another Pine Creek graduate, Alexandra Samuels, didn’t plan on playing college soccer.
And there’s senior goalkeeper Taylor Proctor, who returned to the competitive arena years after a college basketball career at San Francisco.
“I quit,” Boarman said. “Coach Hudson sent me a message that she was the new coach and would love to have me back and play. At first, I told her my soccer days were over and I was just going to focus on school. She might be the most persuasive person I’ve met, and here I am.”
Yes, here they are, still playing on the last day of November. No one could have seen this coming, especially after an 0-2 start and so many new faces to meld into one harmonious unit.
“The mindset changed after we went to Texas and lost twice to start the season,” said senior Sammie Brown, one of the few holdovers from the 2016 season but missed most of the season after suffering a torn knee ligament in the offseason. “We knew there were going to be tough teams, and that we’d have to come together and play for each other. As the season went on, we started clicking with our combinations. We were just hoping to win our conference. We did that, and we just kept rolling.”
Now, it’s just not a nice story about the underdog that made a deep playoff run.
Hudson wants more. She’s asking for one more thing.
“We’re looking to go win a national championship,” Hudson said. “First and foremost, I wanted to build a culture of excellence. We want to be great. I didn’t think we’d be able to get to this point as quickly as we did, but it was a matter of time. We have great team chemistry, and I think we’re peaking at the right time. We’re certainly not going all the way to Kansas City to just be present. We want to win it, and we think we’re capable of that.”
ANATOMY OF A SEASON
Oct. 30, 2016 – Nichole Ridenour, the program’s only coach in the nine-year history of women’s soccer at UCCS, resigns following a 3-12-1 season. Just one year before, the Mountain Lions won their first playoff game in a school history by claiming victory in an RMAC Tournament first-round game.
Jan. 9 – UCCS hires Sian Hudson, who had experience at the semi-professional, NCAA Division I and club ranks, to be the next head coach the women’s soccer program.
Feb. 2 – Hudson announces the signing of 12 players for the upcoming season, six high school seniors and six transfers, headlined by former Sand Creek standout Tarah Patterson, a former club player under Hudson who originally had signed with Washington State but suffered a torn ACL before ever taking the field.
Aug. 31 – UCCS drops its second straight game to start the season, falling 2-1 in a road match at Dallas Baptist.
Sept. 24 – The Mountain Lions’ four-game winning streak is snapped in a dramatic, last-minute home loss to Colorado Mesa, dropping the team’s record to 4-3.
Oct. 13 – UCCS goes on the road and stuns Colorado Mines, ranked No. 6 in the country, 2-1 in overtime.
Oct. 20 – The Mountain Lions fall at home to Regis, 2-1.
Nov. 5 – UCCS, ranked No. 3 in the RMAC Tournament, blanks CSU-Pueblo, 1-0 to claim the program’s first ever tournament championship and automatic NCAA postseason berth.
Nov. 12 – Playing in its first NCAA Tournament game in program history, UCCS shuts out West Texas A&M, 1-0 to advance to the third round. The game marks the seventh straight and fourth consecutive by shutout.
Nov. 17 – UCCS gets an own-goal in the second half to break a 2-2 tie and beat RMAC rival Colorado Mines in a game played at UC-San Diego.
Nov. 19 – Anna Gregg scores the game-winner in a penalty-kick shootout as UCCS continues its run to the national semifinals by shocking No. 3-ranked UC-San Diego. The game was tied 1-1 at the end of regulation after Patterson evened the game with a 79th-minute penalty kick.
Nov. 22 – Prior to its trip to the NCAA Division II semifinals in Kansas City, UCCS lands a prestigious honor as head coach Hudson and her assistants are named NCAA Division II South Central Region staff of the year.