CU lacrosse preview: USC
MATCHUP: No. 16 USC Trojans (7-5, 5-2 Pac-12 Conference) at No. 18 Colorado Buffaloes (7-4, 4-1).
GAME TIME: Friday, 3 p.m., Kittredge Field.
BROADCAST: Live stream available at CUBuffs.com.
LEADERS: USC — Goals: Kerrigan Miller, 24; Assists: Maeve McMahon, 11; Points: Miller and Izzy McMahon, 30; Goalie: Gussie Johns, 8.53 goals-against average, .505 save percentage. Colorado — Goals: Darby Kiernan, 35; Assists: Kiernan, 14; Points: Kiernan, 49; Goalie: Julia Lisella, 8.46 goals-against average, .547 save percentage.
NOTES: USC has had the Buffs' number. CU won the teams' first meeting in overtime in 2014, but the Trojans have won the past five in a row...Kiernan scored four goals in CU's 8-7 overtime loss at USC on March 16. Kiernan has tallied just five goals in the three games since, though she played sparingly in a rout of Arizona State during that span...Miranda Stinson, CU's second-leading scorer with 34 goals, was held scoreless at USC but has posted nine goals and five assists in the three games since...CU completes its homestand against Arizona State Sunday at noon at Prentup Field. Playing the game at Prentup will serve as a sort of dress rehearsal for the first Pac-12 Conference women's lacrosse tournament, which begins at Prentup April 26.
Coach Ann Elliott has mastered all sorts of challenges while building the Colorado women's lacrosse team from scratch into a top-20 program.
Yet beginning this week, Elliott will face a coaching hurdle unique to the five-year existence of CU's program. Unlike previous years as a member of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, the first-year Pac-12 Conference's six-team league features a schedule with home-and-home sets against each conference rival.
So, for the first time in her tenure Elliott has the Buffs preparing for a repeat matchup against a league foe, with 18th-ranked CU hosting No. 16 USC Friday afternoon at Kittredge Field. It will be the Buffs' first home date since a March 11 win against Cal.
"To be able to play them on the road and then be able to play them at home in front of our fans is awesome," Elliott said. "The challenge is obviously familiarity and having to do things differently. Having to make adjustments from the first time you played them, and having to be able to do things differently to catch them off-guard. That's pretty exciting.
"For the most part, when you get into the conference season and you start thinking about our conference tournament and tournament play in general, that's what you have to do. You can't be the same team you were two weeks ago, because everybody has watched you all season long. They know what you're good at and they know what you like to do, and you have to be able to do different things. I think this is a great way to challenge us in the regular season and prepare our whole conference for tournament play."
As the Buffs begin the second half of Pac-12 Conference play, they do so in second-place at 4-1 (Stanford leads at 6-1) and with a couple of factors working in their favor in the league race. First, CU is one of just two Pac-12 teams that have played as few as five league games, meaning the Buffs control their own destiny. Additionally, CU plays three of its final five games at home.
"We need to work on our cutters on defense and going strong into the goal," senior defender Sarah Brown said. "All-around, just being more aggressive I think will really benefit our team."
CU is coming off a 10-8 loss in its final nonconference game last week at the University of Denver, and while the Buffs lead the Trojans (5-2) in the league race, they suffered an overtime loss at USC three weeks ago. Elliott wasn't happy with the start her team put together at DU — the Buffs trailed 6-2 at halftime and couldn't erase the deficit — and hopes the return to Kittredge as well as a return to league play rekindles her team's focus.
"We need to be ready. Ready to go from the start," Elliott said. "When we hit the field on that first minute we have to be ready to compete and expect people to come after us. I don't think we were ready for Denver to come after us. Denver did a great job. That's what we have to take from there—just being ready to attack from that first draw."