Orejel Hopes For Healthy, Breakout Senior Season
The left-outside back has been a three-year starter, but has battled injuries each season
A four-year starter typically isn’t looking for a “breakout” season as a senior, but that’s just what Joss Orejel is aiming for as she enters her final campaign in Boulder this fall. A first-generation college student, Orejel has started 36 matches and appeared in 48 over the past three seasons, but each year has been cut short due to injury, something she hopes to have overcome with more extensive rehab and a bigger commitment to training. The 6-foot, left-outside back has a goal and nine assists in her career.
A year ago she helped CU tie the school record for wins with a 15-6-1 record, finishing tied for second in the Pac-12 with national champion Southern California. Finishing level with the Women of Troy gave Orejel and her teammates the confidence that they too can win a national championship.
Quick Recovery From Knee Injury Just as the Buffs were hitting their stride in the midst of a 10-game winning streak in 2016, Orejel suffered a meniscus injury in her knee. Despite requiring surgery, she missed just five matches, a testament to her toughness and dedication to rehab. She was in athletic trainer Kari Kebach‘s office the next day after the surgery. “It was impressive,” head coach Danny Sanchez said of her recovery. “At first we were thinking maybe we don’t have surgery on it, but it just kept bugging her so we had the surgery. She came right back.” Orejel credits Kebach work and Sanchez’s support for getting back on the field so quickly. “I missed two weekends and Kari was helping me big time,” Orejel said. “Danny was helping me too [with support]. He traveled Kahlia [Hogg, who also missed several matches with an injury,] and I to Stanford to make sure we didn’t fall back on our rehab, which I thought was really nice and it was a big help because every day helped. Getting back, it was just nice to play again.” Her return threw her in the middle of a battle between six schools in a tight race for the top spot in the Pac-12. The Buffs upset No. 9 UCLA 1-0 at Prentup Field in her first game back. But she was not back to her top form before the end of the season, leaving her with the desire to be healthy for the full 2017 season. “With every injury, I feel like after not playing for a long time, you realize how much you appreciate the sport and it gives you that hunger and motivation,” Orejel said. After the knee injury last season and ankle injuries that hampered her first two seasons, she has worked harder during this offseason. She has been doing extra rehab for her knee and ankles at home and lifting weights.
Looking Towards The 2017 Season “We really feel that this year she has made the commitment in the spring and in the summer and we expect she will have a breakout senior year,” Sanchez said. “Joss is a very talented player. Since the day she got here, we’ve seen her quality. You don’t often see players that size with such a good left foot that really have the ability to play a lot of places. I think with Joss, sometimes the first year is your best year and sometimes your last year is your best year. She hasn’t had her best year and we really feel she made the commitment in the spring to fitness, to leadership, and we really feel that this is going to be her best year.” Orejel believes the Buffs can build off last season’s success heading into 2017. The difference between the top and bottom of the table can be miniscule, proven by last season’s team. CU finished last in the Pac-12 in 2015 with a tumultuous season. But a year later, CU completed the best single-season turnaround in Pac-12 history, jumping 10 places in the table from 12th in 2015 to second in 2016. The only difference: leadership. “People just weren’t on the same page [in 2015],” Orejel said. “Last year, all of us didn’t want that for our team anymore. We wanted a clean slate, to bring new energy to the team, and rather than be negative, to be positive. We sat down and had a meeting with our two captains [Kahlia Hogg and Morgan Stanton] leading us. They did a great job motivating us and making sure we were all on the same page. I think the captains had a lot to do with it and not only them, but that whole [senior] class. They were leaders in their own way and everyone was on the same page. We wanted to set a new foundation for the women’s soccer team.” Sanchez also helps build that culture, instilling a family atmosphere on the team. “He really likes our whole team to be one, not where, ‘oh we have two friends over here and two friends over there and these are his favorites.’ He treats everyone equally. It’s more family oriented, rather than, ‘who is the best player?'”
Mexican National Team Sanchez isn’t the only coach that has noticed Orejel’s abilities. The native of Tustin, California, caught the eye of the Mexican National Team’s staff at a club tournament with So Cal Blues when she was in high school. Both of her parents were born in Mexico and have dual citizenship, allowing her to also be eligible for dual citizenship, the requirement to play for another country at the international level. She has competed in numerous U-17 and U-20 tournaments with Mexico, including the 2012 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Azerbaijan, where she played center back. She’s also competed three times at tournaments in Colombia and in numerous friendlies in the United States. While at CU, she has missed several more tournaments, including the 2016 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup due it conflicting with the Buffs’ postseason run in November. After graduation, she hopes to get back to competing for Mexico at the international level.
Looking Beyond Soccer And CU Orejel has been a leader among her family as the first to attend college. Her parents have instilled the desire for success and are pushing her to finish school. She plans to graduate in May 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in advertising and a minor in Spanish. She expects her younger brother and sister to follow in her footsteps to college. “I’m just trying to be a good role model for my siblings and make my parents proud and make myself proud, and hopefully have a successful future,” Orejel said. That future began this summer as she interned for Live Nation in Hollywood. She was able to use her bilingual abilities to help promote events in Spanish. “They don’t have a lot of Spanish speakers so they had me come and help,” Orejel said. “And for the social media campaigns, I had to do some in Spanish and translate everything so [my Spanish background] helped out.” But before her advertising career begins, her college soccer career has to end. She expects this year’s team to be even better than the 2016 squad. “Last year we did really well of, course, but I think we’re capable of doing more,” Orejel said. “I think we’re all on the same page and we all want more. I think we can win a Pac-12 title and our goal can be to win a national championship.”