An opening-round exit from the NCAA Tournament meant the end of the line for a group of seniors that helped build the Colorado women's lacrosse team from an idea to a national power.

Fortunately for Buffaloes head coach Ann Elliott, there remains enough talent on the roster to maintain the program's upward trajectory.

In the team's fourth year of existence, CU earned an NCAA tournament berth that ended with a 13-7 first-round loss against UMass. While many of the key contributors from a bunch that also reached its first Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championship match hailed from a senior class that helped start the program in 2014, the Buffs have the look of a program that expects to reload instead of rebuild.

"I think we're happy and proud of what we've done this year and what we've done over four years," Elliott said. "At the same time, it's an experience to be playing in May. Until you're here in May and have that feel of losing and what that feels like, it's hard to explain to anyone. Even though we lose a great senior class hopefully this makes us stronger and we learn from it."

While the Buffs lose three of their six 25-goal scorers — Johnna Fusco (50 goals, 10 assists), Katie Macleay (40 goals, 16 assists), and Cali Castagnola (27 goals, 10 assists) — the Buffs' attack still will feature Darby Kiernan, who as a junior this year led CU in goals (52) and assists (25).


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CU also expects to return Miranda Stinson, who made a huge jump from 13 goals as a freshman last year to a 36-goal, 15-assist season this year, and Carly Cox, who has topped 25 goals each of the past two seasons.

Defensively the Buffs perhaps suffer more significant graduation losses in goalie Paige Soenksen and defender Molly Rovzar. However the back line still will feature Olivia Aschman and Sarah Brown, who earned first-team all-region honors this year.

Between the pipes, Sophia Gambitsky is expected to take over after backing up Soenksen in three of the past four seasons. Last year, Gambitsky took a redshirt season with an eye on taking over for Soenksen in 2018. Elliott already has expressed confidence that Gambitsky, a fifth-year senior next year, will assume the role seamlessly.

"We're excited to have Sophia back. Not only is she a great leader, but she's someone that for the last four years has worked as hard as anyone to get better," Elliott said. "She's someone that's ready for the opportunity to play.

"When you have someone like Paige, it's tough to get chances. And (Gambitsky) didn't really get any. But she prepared every day for it and we're excited to have her back next year and have that strong leadership."

Pat Rooney: rooneyp@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/prooney07