The 2018 campaign proved to be another step forward for the University of Colorado women's lacrosse team in the program's fifth season of existence.
On Sunday, Florida made certain that growth would be limited to just one step.
Despite a stellar start from the Buffaloes, CU's offense abruptly went stagnant while the host Gators came alive, ultimately sending CU back to Colorado with a 13-9 defeat in a Sweet 16 showdown at Florida's Dizney Stadium. Two days after scoring 23 goals, tying the second-most in program history, in a first-round win against Jacksonville, the Buffs were held to less than 10 goals for just the sixth time in 20 games.
The win against Jacksonville was the first NCAA Tournament win for coach Ann Elliott's program after reaching the 26-team field for the first time in 2017. It was a frustrating end to an emotional season for the Buffs, who dedicated the year to senior teammate Julia Sarcona after she died in a car accident in January just days before preseason practice began.
"I'm really proud of this group. I told them that after the game, but I'm not sure if they really heard it because they're upset," Elliott said. "We wanted to keep playing and have more opportunities to be together. But at the same time, this group has been through a lot, from right before the season and then throughout, the ups and downs of losing a teammate and having another really sick and all in a short period of time is difficult. But I think it was their perseverance throughout, and their ability to keep competing and get us to a position to win a Pac-12 regular season championship, and then something we've never done, making it to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
"There's a lot for us to be proud of. I'm especially proud of how strong they were and how they really came together in the toughest of times. I think that's what our program is about. Hopefully, as we continue, we can get better and keep moving forward and get further into the tournament. But for this group, it's really special."
The Buffs couldn't have asked for a better start on the road, jumping to a 5-0 lead in the game's first 5 minutes, 51 seconds. From there, however, the match was all Florida.
The Gators scored the next eight goals through halftime to take an 8-5 lead at the break. CU's scoring drought reached 24:24 before CU freshman Sadie Grozier scored the first goal of the second half. Consecutive goals from Samantha Nemirov and Carly Cox got the Buffs within 9-8 with more than 18 minutes remaining, but CU scored just one goal the rest of the way, while Florida clinched its quarterfinal berth by posting four of the game's final five goals.
CU leading scorer Darby Kiernan, coming off a team-record 12 points in the opener against Jacksonville, scored two goals in the game's first 3:01 during the Buffs' opening 5-0 salvo but was held scoreless the rest of the way.
Despite the setback, Elliott is ready for the challenge of keeping the Buffs among the nation's elite. The Buffs lose Kiernan, who graduates as the program's all-time leading scorer, as well as senior defenders Sarah Brown and Kelsie Garrison. Yet the Buffs expect to retain junior Miranda Stinson, the team's second leading scorer, while looking to build on breakout seasons from such underclassmen as sophomore goalie Julia Lisella and Nemirov, a junior attacker who emerged as CU's third-leading scorer.
Florida 13, Colorado 9
At Dizney StadiumColorado (14-6) 5 4 — 9
Goals — Colorado: Cox 3, Kiernan 2, Nemirov, Stinson, Grozier, Castillo; Florida: Sh. Pirreca 4, Sy. Pirreca 3, Haus 2, Ronbeck, Kavanagh, Hall, Benitez.
Assists — Colorado: Kiernan, Castillo, Stinson; Florida: Sy. Pirreca 2, Kavanagh, Benitez.
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Colorado: Lisella (60-13-11); Florida: Hicklen (60--9-11).