With heavy hearts and high expectations, the Colorado women's lacrosse team is ready to begin the 2018 season.
Ranked 17th in the country to begin the fifth campaign of the program's existence, head coach Ann Elliott and the Buffaloes find themselves in an unusually challenging situation.
On the one hand, with CU coming off the first NCAA Tournament in the program's short history, the Buffs are eyeing a return visit with an impressive array of veterans set to be fortified by talented youngsters.
However, the Buffs also are just three weeks removed from attending the funeral of teammate Julia Sarcona, a senior who was killed in a one-car accident on Boulder Canyon Road on Jan. 13. Needless to say, the team will be full of jumbled emotions when it opens the 2018 season on Friday against Michigan in Jacksonville, Fla.
CU continues its opening road trip on Sunday at fifth-ranked Florida.
"I think our start obviously has been different. Any time you lose a teammate it's hard," head coach Ann Elliott said. "Our players have gone through a lot of emotions. A lot of ups and downs. And they will throughout the rest of the season. And I think it's something we're aware of, and they're becoming aware of.
"But I think when we stick to our values and focus on the things we can control, we get back to those basics of one thing at a time. I think they've really bought into that over the last couple weeks, and they've really bought into just being together and working together. Hopefully that's really going to drive us in the right direction as we get into our season and the games this weekend."
The Buffs return plenty of firepower from a club that went 16-4 a year ago, including three of the team's top five point-scorers.
Leading that group is senior Darby Kiernan, who led the Buffs in goals (52), assists (25), and total points (77) while earning first team all-league honors and third-team All-American honors from the Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association. CU also returns its fourth-leading scorer in junior Miranda Stinson (36 goals, 15 assists) and fifth-leading scorer Carly Cox (27 goals, 17 assists).
Defensively, the Buffs should be sound once again with senior Sarah Brown anchoring the unit. The Boulder native was a first team All-Region selection by the IWLCA last year and also earned second-team All-American honors.
If there is a question mark heading into the 2018 season for the Buffs it's between the pipes, as Elliott looks to fifth-year senior Sophia Gambitsky and redshirt sophomore Julia Lisella to replace Paige Soenksen, who played in 74 of CU's 75 games through the program's first four seasons.
"Any time you lose a starting goalie, especially someone for four years and someone that was as strong as Paige was and just so confident back there and steady, it's a hard role to fill," Elliott said. "I think with both Sophia, who's obviously in her fifth year here, and Julia we have a lot of talent. They've both been playing really well over the last couple weeks and competing. I think that's going to be the story of us this year, that they're going to continue to compete, continue to push each other."