Former Carson High soccer standout Kenzie Tillitt couldn’t ask for anything more from her freshman season in college.
Tillitt, who received a soccer scholarship to the University of Colorado, was part of a Buffaloes’ team that compiled a 14-7-2 record and upset two ranked teams — No. 15 Denver and No. 19 BYU — en route to reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2006. Colorado was eliminated in the third round by No. 1 Florida State, 4-0.
“It was amazing to say the least,” said Tillitt, who returned home for Christmas vacation and took in the Carson-Manogue boys basketball game. “It’s definitely not something you ever want to take for granted because you never know if you’ll get the opportunity to go back. To make it in my first year was a special thing.”
Tillitt served as the Buffaloes’ No. 2 goalie behind senior Annie Brunner. Tillitt played in two of the team’s 23 games, seeing time in a 4-1 win over Tennessee-Martin and in a 3-0 loss at Washington State. The 5-foot-5 Tillitt, who excelled as a field player at Carson while playing goalie in club ball, said it was tough sitting and watching. In high school and club, she rarely came off the field.
“It was hard at times,” she admitted. “I did feel in certain games I could have helped, but I believe I grew so much as a player this year. Having Annie ahead of me was great. She taught me so much. I grew so much as a goaltender.
“The speed of the game is so different. They shoot so hard and so fast. The first time I faced shots (in practice) I had the deer in the headlights look. I felt I got better as the season went along, and I couldn’t have done it without Annie. It (watching) gave me a look at the bigger picture. My reaction time has gotten quicker, and I’m better at reading the game. You have to be one step ahead at all times, knowing when to be aggressive and knowing when to hang back.”
The game at Washington State was special for two reasons. The first is that Tillitt got some much-needed time between the posts, and she got to play in front of former Carson standout Brandi Vega, who played four years at WSU.
“The coach was upset at the starters, so he made some changes,” Tillitt said. “Brandi got to see me play and told me she was proud of me.”
Vega and Tillitt are the two best players in the past 10 years at CHS. The duo made life miserable for Northern Nevada teams in their careers.
Tillitt is the starting keeper for Colorado heading into spring training which starts in late January. Tillitt said she returns to school on Jan. 19, and training will start immediately after that. The school is allowed to play some exhibitions during the spring semester, and there will be some pressure.
“I feel more pressure going into spring ball,” she said. “This is a make or break time for me to see whether I’m going to be the starting goalie or whether it will be open competition in the fall. I have to earn their (the coaching staff) confidence.
“I’m anxious to get the first experience of facing an opposing shot out of the way.” In her two appearances this year, she didn’t have any stats.
Tillitt said coach Danny Sanchez is bringing in a freshman keeper, and that the coach also was looking at bringing in a JC transfer. Tillitt said that it’s possible that she could still use this past season as a redshirt because she only saw action in two games and played less than 30 minutes.
“I came in wanting to compete for the starting job this year which happened,” she said. “I didn’t want to put myself out (of the running) for that right off the bat.”
Right now, Tillitt enjoys the life of a college athlete. She admits that it’s time consuming when you consider practice time and all that goes with being on a college team.
“I don’t think of it as work,” she said. “It’s the fun part of the day. You wake up and go to training. It’s definitely a lifestyle change that you need to get to.”