Hannah Cardenas Making An Immediate Impact In First Season
Colorado Women’s Soccer
Not many freshmen come in with an expectation to start from Day 1 at Colorado. After all, the Buffs compete in perhaps the toughest conference in the NCAA as the Pac-12 sent six teams to the NCAA Tournament last season, including the Buffs and national champion Southern California.
That lack of expectation for playing time was no different for Hannah Cardenas, a top-rated recruit from Placentia, California. She figured she would have to work her way into the lineup throughout the season, but found out the day before last Friday’s season opener that she would be among the first 11 against Colorado State.
Cardenas led CU’s defense during its first two matches last weekend, helping the Buffs to a pair of clean sheets to start the year. She is the only player on CU’s roster to play all 211 minutes through two matches.
Head coach Danny Sanchez says she has all of the tools to play right away and have an impact in the Colorado lineup. He said she has done a great job over the first two matches.
“She’s fit, she’s got good pace and she’s clean on the ball, and for her size, she’s strong in the tackle,” Sanchez said. “There’s lots of room for improvement; she’s not a finished project by any stretch of the imagination, but she’ll improve with more playing time. But so far, so good.”
It is unusual for a center back to come in and start right away, but Cardenas came to CU with experience and a strong work ethic from playing at a high level with Slammers FC, one of the top soccer clubs in the country. Her team was ranked No. 1 in the Elite Clubs National League for most of 2015 and 2016.
“We knew when we recruited Hannah and as she developed over the past few years of club that she would have an opportunity to come in and make in impact,” Sanchez said. “She came in fit and confident and earned a spot in the preseason.”
Cardenas credits her teammates for helping make the transition as seamless as possible. The biggest challenge of making the jump from high school and club soccer to college is the speed of play and knowing where to be at each moment.
“[The biggest differences are] just pace, getting used to how to move and how to get to this spot at the right time, and your angles,” Cardenas said. “That’s the biggest thing to get used to.”
She committed to the Buffs at the end of her freshman year of high school. While it is commonplace for soccer players to commit that early, sometimes they reach their peak at that age and are not ready for Pac-12 soccer when they arrive on campus four years later. That was not the case with Cardenas. She continued to improve throughout her high school career.
“She came to our camp and just loved it and was all in and wanted to be a Buff,” Sanchez said. “So we brought her back that fall for a visit and she loved it again. During that stretch, we were able to watch her a little bit more and we felt that she had the tools to play in the Pac-12. The bigger piece, once they commit so young, is that they continue to improve and play at a high level. And every time we’ve seen her play the last couple of years with her club, she’s always had an impact on the game and been playing well. We felt that she’d have an opportunity to contribute right away.”
Falling In Love With Boulder
Cardenas said it was an easy decision to choose the University of Colorado. She liked what the coaches told her about the university and that it was a Pac-12 school. She said it felt like home.
“I’m a big outdoors person so knowing that there’s all of this access to the outdoors was a big thing too,” Cardenas said. “The beautiful field and setup we have here just brought it together.”
While Colorado does not have the beaches that Orange County has, there is plenty that Boulder offers that reminds her of home. Boulder and the Flatirons give her glimpses of growing up in Southern California and hiking around Carbon Canyon.
“I’ve always been an outdoors person so coming out here [to Colorado], it’s a lot easier to get used to it, because in Southern California, it’s a lot of city,” Cardenas said of the landscape back home.
So far the team has hiked around the Chautauqua area in Boulder, in and around the Flatirons. She has also journeyed around Boulder Creek.
Cardenas is very active in the community through her church, a unique characteristic for such a young adult. In addition to serving as a Sunday School teacher at Calvary Chapel, she has worked with Cory’s Kitchen over the past two years to provide emergency food to families in need.
“It’s a homeless shelter, basically, and we have people donate food and clothes and different accessories like shoes,” Cardenas said. “We’ll have people come in the city and they’ll bring their cars or their bikes over and we’ll package food for them and put that in their cars. They have open access to all of the clothes to take back to their families.”
She said sometimes she and her fellow volunteers even drop off food for people at their houses.
That attitude of giving fits in well with CU’s soccer team; the Buffs have participated in a similar program in Boulder with the Emergency Family Assistance Association. The team also volunteered with Special Olympics Colorado this past weekend.
“She cares about her teammates, she cares about the program, she cares about her family,” Sanchez said. “Those are characteristics that are good building blocks going forward. We want people in the program that are good people and she’s a good person.”
In her spare time outside of soccer, school and volunteering, Cardenas is into art. She enjoys photography and painting watercolors.
Preparing For Pac-12 Play
While CU’s first two opponents were more than worthy opponents, the level of play will step up as the non-conference schedule continues and gets into Pac-12 play.
“Like I told all of the backs, they’re going to be tested more than they were over the last weekend,” Sanchez said. “You’re going to see a lot more dynamic players and a lot more dynamic movement. The communication piece—being turned on the whole game, not taking mental breaks—will be a challenge for her and for all of the backs. I think they’re up for the challenge, but they’ll definitely be under more pressure [this weekend] than they were last weekend.”