CU lacrosse preview: Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championship match
MATCHUP: No. 2 Colorado Buffaloes (16-2) vs. No. 1 USC Trojans (15-3).
GAME TIME: Sunday, 2 p.m. MDT, McAlister Field, Los Angeles.
LEADERS: Colorado — Goals: A Darby Kiernan, 49; Assists: Kiernan, 21; Points: Kiernan 70. USC — Goals: A Michaela Michael, Sr., 67; Assists: A Cynthia Del Core, Sr., 26; Points: Michael, 84; Goalie: Gussie Johns, Jr., 7.29 goals-against average, .474 save percentage.
NOTABLE: The Buffs and USC are the top two defensive teams in the nation...the Trojans own a nine-game win streak...With four goals in USC's 18-7 semifinal win against San Diego State, Michael took over the national goal-scoring lead...Sophomore Miranda Stinson led the way in CU's 14-13 semifinal win against Stanford with five goals, including three during the Buffs' game-ending 6-3 run. After going six consecutive matches without a two-goal outing, Stinson has scored 11 goals in the past three games...CU's 11-5 loss at USC two weeks ago marked a season-low scoring total for the Buffs. Kiernan scored two goals in that game, while Kylie Drexel led the Trojans with three goals and an assist.
They were teammates in college, and later shared duties on the same college coaching staff.
To say the careers of Colorado women's lacrosse coach Ann Elliott and her counterpart at USC, Lindsey Munday, have been intertwined doesn't quite do justice to the unique parallels their paths have shared. Their longstanding relationship will break into new territory Sunday when Elliott's Buffaloes make their first appearance in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championship match against the host Trojans at 2 p.m. MDT at McAlister Field.
"Obviously she's a good friend of mine, and I think for both of us it's exciting to be here, exciting to get to play against each other in the championship game," Elliott said. "That's pretty cool. It's definitely very exciting for both of us, and good for the growth of lacrosse and the sport."
Munday graduated one year ahead of Elliott at Northwestern, then joined the Wildcats' staff for Elliott's senior season. The pair were assistants together under Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte Hiller before Munday headed west to take over the new program at USC.
One year later Elliott did the same, with the Buffs beginning play in 2014.
Munday led the Trojans to their first berth in the MPSF final last year, in the program's fourth season. Elliott did the same this year with the Buffs. USC won the league tournament last year before advancing to the NCAA Tournament, a road CU is attempting to repeat this year.
Elliott got the best of her old friend in the teams' first matchup in 2014, with the Buffs gutting out an overtime win. Since then USC has won four consecutive meetings, including an 11-5 win two weeks ago. In that matchup, CU was undone by a scoring drought of just over 35 minutes.
"We know USC is a great team. They're so good defensively," Elliott said. "They have a lot of weapons offensively and they're playing really well right now. For us, it's about going out there and battling for every play. I think in that last game we did a lot of things well, but then at the same time we folded a little bit. Our girls showed (in the semifinals) we can fight at the end and go play-by-play. We're going to need to do that on Sunday."
CU is coming off a gritty semifinal win that saw Stanford, which had eliminated the Buffs in each of the previous three MPSF semifinals, take a two-goal lead with under 15 minutes remaining. The Buffs outscored Stanford 6-3 the rest of the way to advance.
That victory put the finishing touches on CU's expected first invitation to the NCAA Tournament, which will be announced May 7. A victory Sunday would give the Buffs one of the 13 automatic berths into the tourney and likely secure an opening date at home.
"We're here to compete for a conference championship, and that's our only focus," Elliott said. "We try to focus on what's in front of us and what we can control. The only thing we're talking about is the game on Sunday."