CU lacrosse preview: Jacksonville
MATCHUP: Jacksonville Dolphins (16-3) vs. Colorado Buffaloes (13-5), first round of NCAA Tournament.
GAME TIME: Friday, 2 p.m. MDT, Dizney Stadium, Gainesville, Fla.
LEADERS: Jacksonville — Goals: Ashtyn Hiron 66; Assists: Erin McGuire 35; Points: Hiron 91; Goalie: Emily Poelma, 9.91 goals-against average, .371 save percentage. Colorado — Goals: Darby Kiernan 61; Assists: Kiernan 25; Points: Kiernan 86; Goalie: Julia Lisella, 8.54 goals-against average, .527 save percentage.
NOTES: The winner will play host Florida on Sunday for a berth in the quarterfinals. CU suffered a 16-9 loss at Florida in the second game of the season on Feb. 11...The Buffs have played Jacksonville just once, suffering a 20-13 loss on the road in CU's inaugural season of 2014. Marie Moore, now a volunteer assistant with the Buffs, shared the team lead with three goals in that match...Kiernan recorded three goals and two assists in CU's NCAA Tournament debut a year ago, a 13-7 first-round loss against UMass...CU went 2-4 against NCAA Tournament teams this season. The Buffs defeated Stanford twice during the regular season before losing to the Cardinal in the Pac-12 title game. CU also suffered road losses against Florida, Northwestern, and Denver.
On March 29, the University of Colorado women's lacrosse team endured one of its most disappointing efforts of the season.
The Buffaloes visited their state rivals at the University of Denver and faltered almost immediately, scoring just two first-half goals in what became a 10-8 defeat.
While it was a frustrating performance, it also was a galvanizing one for the Buffs, who bounced back from the loss to win six consecutive games to capture the Pac-12 Conference regular season crown and earn a date in the league title game.
Unfortunately for CU it laid another egg in that title game, producing a season-low scoring total in a 15-6 loss to Stanford. While it may not have been the performance coach Ann Elliott and her club wanted as a springboard into their second consecutive NCAA Tournament, the Buffs have proven they can rebound from a tough outing. And they believe it will happen again when they take on Jacksonville in an opening-round game Friday afternoon in Gainesville, Fla.
"Denver was a really tough loss, and when we have a loss like that we just worked hard at practice and focused on the little things," said senior Darby Kiernan. "I think our loss against Stanford, we knew we had to get better at the little things and work harder on the little things. We just kept doing that at all our practices, having a chip on our shoulder and wanting to prove ourselves on Friday."
A win against Jacksonville might serve as the next step for a CU program that has steadily been on the rise since its inaugural season in 2014. The Buffs have reached their conference title game in two consecutive seasons and also reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time last year, yet CU has gone 0-3 in those showcase matches.
In order to get over that hurdle, the onus likely will be on the Buffs' defense returning to form. The 15 goals CU surrendered to Stanford in the Pac-12 title game matched the third-most CU has allowed this season, and the Buffs will face a Jacksonville team that enters the tournament with the nation's top scoring offense at 18.47 goals per game.
Despite the scoring flurry by Stanford, the Buffs still boast one of the stingiest defenses in the 26-team tournament field. The Buffs rank 11th in Division I women's lacrosse in scoring defense at 9.28 goals allowed per game, while redshirt sophomore goalie Julia Lisella's .527 save percentage is the fifth-best mark in the nation.
Jacksonville's Ashtyn Hiron ranks 11th in the nation with 91 points (66 goals, 25 assists).
"I think in general we're resilient. We've been through a lot," Elliott said. "This is a team that wants to keep fighting and keep getting better. Our message after our loss (against Stanford) obviously we can give up or we can keep fighting and hope that we get another opportunity. And this team undoubtedly wanted to fight.
"We practiced really hard last week. Focused on the little thing. Focused on just competing and outworking people on the field. I think this is a team that is going to respond and is excited to have another opportunity."