It has been an emotional season for the Colorado women's lacrosse team. Yet on very few occasions have the Buffaloes allowed those emotions to overwhelm them instead of using them as an empowering force.
That changed briefly on Friday afternoon. Facing Oregon with an opportunity to claim an outright Pac-12 Conference regular season championship, the No. 15-ranked Buffs hit Kittredge Field on Senior Day in hopes of honoring a fallen senior classmate with the first championship of any sort in the program's five-year history.
However, for the first four-plus minutes the Buffs were uncharacteristically tight while falling into an early 3-1 hole. A productive timeout by coach Ann Elliott quickly settled her club, and from there the Buffs dominated the visiting Ducks for a 19-9 victory.
CU had already locked up the top seed in next week's league tournament, which the Buffs will host at Prentup Field. With the Pac-12 sponsoring a women's lacrosse league for the first time, the Buffs will forever be remembered as the league's first regular-season champion. CU also improved to 7-0 all-time against Oregon.
Afterward the Buffs honored eight seniors, a group that included the family of Julia Sarcona, who died in a car accident in January just before the start of preseason practices.
"This season didn't start out the way we wanted it, and we wanted to rally and do this for the seniors and Julia's family," said Miranda Stinson. "I think we came out with some emotions, and after the timeout we kind of gathered ourselves and focused."
Following Oregon's 3-1 start, the Buffs outscored the visitors 18-6 the rest of the way. The Ducks remained within 12-8 with more than 26 minutes remaining, but the Buffs reeled off the next six goals to pull away.
Darby Kiernan paced the offense with six goals and three assists, while Stinson added four goals and one assist. Kiernan increased her season totals to 57 goals and 81 points, breaking her own single-season team records in both categories. With 24 assists, Kiernan needs just one more to match her team record of 25 set last season.
Kiernan has compiled 13 goals and six assists in the past two games.
The lopsided finish allowed Elliott to get a few of the team's less-used seniors into the fray. Fifth-year senior Tori Link, who missed all of last season due to a knee injury and played in just four matches previously this year, came off the bench to cap the scoring with her first goal in two years. And senior goalie Sophia Gambitsky, who started the first two games of the season before giving way to Julia Lisella, played the final six minutes in her final game at Kittredge.
The Buffs will play the winner of the Thursday first-round game between the league's fourth and fifth seeds, most likely Oregon or Cal, in the first semifinal on Friday at 1 p.m.
"Obviously the first year of the Pac-12 is exciting, and we had goals to compete for this championship — both regular season and postseason," Elliott said. "To come out here, to keep battling through some emotions, and come out with a win was huge for us.
"Today is the last day of the regular season. Everything else is a clean slate and one game at a time. Nothing for us is guaranteed. We're at home. We're comfortable at home. We like playing at home. But at the same time, everybody is fighting for one more day to play with their team. We know it's going to be a battle."
No. 15 Colorado 19, Oregon 9
At Kittredge FieldOregon (8-8, 4-6) 6 3 — 9
Goals — Oregon: Gattie 4, Zubillaga 2, Williams 2, Hesketh; Colorado: Kiernan 6, Stinson 4, Cox 2, Castillo 2, Brown, Nemirov, Collawn, Grozier, Link.
Assists — Oregon: Cukar 4, Gattie, Hesketh, Modly; Colorado: Kiernan 3, Brown, Cox, Stinson.
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Oregon: Read (60-19-14); Colorado: Lisella (54-8-6), Gambitsky (6-1-1).