After playing a key role for the University of Colorado lacrosse team her freshman year, junior attack Cali Castagnola saw a muted sophomore season as she adjusted to becoming the leading scorer off the bench.
But during the team's first game at Denver on Feb. 12, Castagnola proved to be the catalyst for her team in their 11-10 win over the Pioneers.
Just minutes into the game, Castagnola made her mark in the record books as she recorded the quickest pair of goals from a single player at 11 seconds apart. A few minutes later, she made another entry in the books with the fastest hat trick in the program's three years in just five minutes and 15 seconds.
Her early spark gave the Buffaloes the energy they needed to not only keep the lead against one of their tougher opponents, but to shock the Pioneers with a thrilling victory.
"It was a strong start leading up to the game and then keeping that momentum going throughout the entire game was important," Castagnola said.
The Buffs (1-0) will try to keep their momentum going when they play at Fresno State on Sunday at 1 p.m. MT.
The road to Castagnola's early junior year success wasn't always easy, despite a strong showing during the team's inaugural season and her freshman year. As a consistent starter, she became the first Buff to ever score a goal and finished the season with five games in which she scored four or more goals.
After recording seven shots in back-to-back games against Temple and Fresno State, WomensLAX.com awarded her the Rookie of the Week honor. She completed the season with 55 shots on goal, 39 of which she converted for a score (second-highest on team). She also ranked in the top eight in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation in free-position goals with 12 and goals per game with an average of 2.1.
Last year, however, Castagnola took a bit of a step back. Coming off the bench in all but five games, Castagnola made the best of it as she continued to be the leading scorer among non-starters with 14 goals.
Her confidence had taken a hit, and the results translated to the field. Head coach Ann Elliott believes that, in part, Castagnola's quiet demeanor may have contributed to the dip in confidence.
"I think Cali, throughout her career here, has always done great things across the board. For her, it's confidence, coming back fit and ready to really attack. When you meet Cali, she's like the nicest kid ever, a little — I don't know if shy is the right word — but quiet," Elliott said.
Castagnola said that because she saw her playing time and contributions on the field decline last year, she made the extra effort in the offseason to get her skills back to the level they were in her freshman season.
"I've been working on (confidence) since back in the fall, so the fall was an important part to build up to this preseason and then our first game, finally. It's been a long, hard-working few months," she said.
But despite her quiet nature, Elliott and her staff have worked with the junior to enhance her drive and effectiveness when she takes the field.
"For us, it's getting the inner part out, the part that offensively wants to attack and be aggressive, and I think that's emerged for Cali this year," Elliott said. "And it's exciting to see, because she has so much potential. She moves well, she shoots well and she dodges, and now that she has that aggressive part of making things happen, she's able to contribute a lot more."
Clearly, Castagnola's hard work paid off against Denver, and she plans to build upon that success as the season progresses.
Alissa Noe: email@example.com