CU lacrosse preview: Denver

MATCHUP: No. 14 Colorado Buffaloes (7-3) at No. 25 Denver (5-3).

GAME TIME: Thursday, 7 p.m., Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium.

BROADCAST: TV — Altitude.

LEADERS: Denver — Goals: Julie Feiss, 22; Assists: Kendra Lanuza, 10; Goalie: Carson Gregg, 9.71 goals-against average, .469 save percentage. Colorado — Goals: Darby Kiernan, 34; Assists: Kiernan, 13; Goalie: Julia Lisella, 8.25 goals-against average, .572 save percentage.

NOTES: Formerly rivals in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, this will be the second time the state rivals have competed as non-league foes...The series is tied 2-2, with CU posting wins the past two seasons...Lisella began the week ranked fourth in the nation in save percentage and sixth in goals-against average...Kiernan posted three goals in last year's 14-3 CU win against the Pioneers...CU will play its first home game in almost a full month on April 6 against USC.

The Colorado women's lacrosse team was expected to maintain the momentum this spring that it gathered a year ago, when the Buffaloes reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the program began play in 2014.


Still, there were a few holes to fill, particularly on offense. While leading scorer Darby Kiernan remained at the forefront of the attack coming into 2018, coach Ann Elliott still had to replace the firepower of departed 2017 seniors Johnna Fusco, Katie Macleay, and Cali Castagnola — a trio that combined to produce 117 goals and 35 assists last year.

That's where Samantha Nemirov has stepped to the plate.

The junior attacker has emerged from the shadows of a backup role during her first two seasons to become an integral part of CU's offense, and she will look to build on a career-best performance last week at Oregon when the Buffs visit intrastate rival Denver on Thursday night.

"Last year in her sophomore season, she was really starting to come on a little bit, but she didn't get a lot of opportunities," Elliott said. "We had a lot of upperclassmen and seniors that were attackers. So going into this year, we knew she could be a great threat for us and really fill in some of the spaces we lost.

"Definitely a pleasant surprise. When you go into a season and you have to rebuild in some ways, your expectation is obviously for the players who have been in your program to step up and fill in those shoes. But I think that's easier said than done when you haven't played that much over two years and you're playing at the college level."

Nemirov appeared in just 22 games over her first two seasons at CU, compiling a total of nine goals and three assists. She scored nearly as many goals during last week's win at Oregon (six) as she did all last season (seven). Nemirov began the season with a three-goal performance in the opener against Michigan and added four-goal games against San Diego State, Virginia Tech, and Cal.

Heading into Thursday's match at DU, Nemirov has recorded 26 goals and six assists, ranking third on the team in goals and points.

"Coming in freshman year, I was just prepared to do my role whatever that was," Nemirov said. "Last year I got to play a little bit more, but it's always about what the team needs. The last two years they didn't need me on the field, but now I'm filling in those spots that the graduates left. I play hard and fast in practice every day, and I've been able to execute and really get the job done in the games."

The Buffs take a run of wins in six of their past seven matches into the showdown against former league rival DU, which also will be CU's final nonconference match of the season. When the CU program began in 2014, the Pioneers were the local standard the Buffs were aspiring to. Though DU joined the Big East two seasons ago and CU began play in the new Pac-12 women's lacrosse league this season, Elliott believes the local rivalry remains one of the highlights of CU's schedule.

"This is a big nonconference game for us," Elliott said. "For us, it's a great opportunity to play a really good team and see what we can do. Denver has been a great team, and when we first started the program it was a challenge for us, and it's still a challenge. It's a game we look forward to playing every year."

Pat Rooney: or