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CU soccer star Marshall poised for greatness

John Henderson
The Denver Post

MEAD – The regulation-sized soccer goalpost is still in the spacious backyard, looking, symbolically today, like a rural Arc de Triumph. This is where Mike Marshall would flail helplessly trying to stop his little daughter Nikki’s rockets from all over the yard.

“I use it for chipping practice now,” Mike said with a laugh.

Yes, Nikki Marshall has been shooting at bigger goals these days. Like the one at Rio de Janeiro’s famed Maracana Stadium, the under-20 World Cup venue in Chile, and again this fall at Prentup Field on Colorado’s campus.



For the second consecutive year, she was named first-team preseason All-American. As Mike Marshall beams about raising one of the top 11 college players in America, the full moon is reflecting off pretty Mulligan Lake, which rubs against his backyard.

A neighbor had bales of hay in the flatbed of his truck. A corn field stretches the length of Third Street. Mead still boasts a fire station inside the town hall and just this year built a high school.



Mead, population 1,600, isn’t in the middle of nowhere. It’s just off Interstate 25 north of Longmont. But what Nikki describes as “a tiny little farm town” is an odd place to find one of the top collegiate players in America.

As Colorado coach Bill Hempen said: “She was under the radar. When you’re in Mead, you’re way under the radar.”

Not anymore. Marshall is on the Hermann Trophy watch list, women soccer’s equivalent to the Heisman. The senior has a school-record 37 career goals, including 17 game-winners. She made last summer’s Pan American team and led Team USA to the under-20 World Cup championship, earning woman of the match in the 2-1 title win over North Korea.



In an 8-1 victory over St. Mary’s recently, she scored in the first 23 seconds. She scored the winning goal one minute from the end of double overtime Sept. 4 to beat the University of Denver 1-0.

Said Hempen, in his 22nd year as a head coach, ninth at Colorado, “Nikki is a once-in- a-lifetime player you come across as a coach.”

Said Tony DiCicco, coach of Women Professional Soccer’s Boston Breakers and her under-20 World Cup coach: “I don’t think she has any potential as a professional. Write that in caps. I want to be able to draft her.”

Said University of Denver coach Jeff Hooker: “There have been a lot of good ones (out of Colorado), players like Marian Dalmy (of Lakewood). She’s easily in that class.”

Under the radar

Marshall is not a born-and-bred farm girl. When she was 6, her family moved to Mead from Westminster where, Mike said, “the city was closing in around us.” An engineer, Marshall built a house specifically designed for his daughters.

At the time, soccer was just something Nikki played during recess with the boys. Softball was her thing. Marshall built a basement that’s 45 feet long, just long enough for Nikki and Shaye, a freshman midfielder for Colorado, to pitch underhand lasers at him.

However, Nikki loved the team structure of soccer, the newness of it. Best of all, she could use speed that shocked everyone around her. Mike was a receiver and safety for Jefferson High in Edgewater, and her mom, Kelly, was a sprinter at Northglenn. It all rubbed off to where Nikki’s sprints down the flank draw oohs and aahs from the growing crowds at Prentup.

“I think every sport, except for softball – basketball too – I’d outrun the ball,” said Nikki, who plays defender and forward. “I’d be dribbling and I’d just lose it. I’d run but I didn’t have the skill.”

It came quickly. She scored 17 goals her freshman year at Skyline High and 100 goals during her prep career. When she started excelling for Denver’s prestigious Colorado Girls Soccer Academy, word got out. The girl from Mead was going to be a star.

“It was hard to keep everybody off her,” said Hempen, whose Buffs (4-5) host Nebraska (5-1-2) to open Big 12 play at 4 p.m. Friday. “But what they don’t see is the raw athlete and the person inside the raw athlete that has a will and desire to succeed and win like this kid does.”

Still, Marshall was regarded as a good Big 12 player until an invitation to the national U-21 team camp in Carson, Calif., after her freshman year in 2006, when she set a school record with 17 goals. UCLA coach Jill Ellis put her on the U-20 team.

Marshall’s career was skyrocketing.

On a world stage

With success comes decisions. Last fall, the NCAA Tournament coincided with the World Cup. Marshall had already marked Brazil’s Marta, the top player in the world, at the Pan Am Games. She wanted more tests but didn’t want to abandon her Buffs in the biggest tests of the season. She considered sitting out, as a redshirt, then decided against it.

“She’s an extremely loyal person and felt it would be selfish not to play with some of those seniors,” Hempen said. “She’s good friends with them.”

She believed in them too. In Chile, she and her teammates filled out mock NCAA brackets. She penned Colorado all the way to the Final Four. She then tossed the bracket after round one, when South Dakota State shocked the Buffs in Minneapolis 1-0. She followed it all on the Internet.

“It was so tough, knowing I could possibly have made a difference,” she said. “I don’t know if I would have, but at least I would’ve been with them when they lost.”

Holding the World Cup trophy and wearing the woman of the match medal almost made up for it. The win reverberated all the way back home. A woman in the Marshalls’ church watched every World Cup game and gave Kelly CDs of each match.

Nikki returned to a Buffs team that greeted her with open arms, not resentment.

“There was no dissension at all,” Hempen said. “There can’t be. She’s such a gem.”

John Henderson: 303-954-1299 or jhenderson@denverpost.com

Nikki Marshall

School: Colorado

Class: Senior

Height: 5-feet-7

Background: Majoring in sociology. . . . As a junior, was CU’s second-leading scorer with eight goals, 20 points. Made first-team all-Big 12. . . . Led Buffs in scoring as a freshman and sophomore, setting several school offensive records in the process. . . . Highly decorated career at Skyline High School, excelling in soccer, track and softball. Scored 23 goals as a senior. Source: CU


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