The University of Colorado lacrosse program has enjoyed success this season not only because of its versatile offense but also through a strong defensive corps, and Kelsie Garrison has played a major role in that defensive prosperity.
So far this year, the sophomore midfielder/defender from Westlake Village, Calif., has recovered 31 ground balls (second on the team), caused 21 turnovers and has won 10 draw controls over the course of 15 games as she's focused mainly on protecting her goalie, junior Paige Soenksen.
In Colorado's 9-8 loss to USC a few weeks ago, Garrison acted as a wrecking ball on defense with two caused turnovers that resulted in two ground ball recoveries and was one of the driving forces that kept CU in the game against a top-10 opponent.
"Kelsie's been doing a great job for us defensively. I think she's such a strong defender," head coach Ann Elliott said. "I think she's done a great job of really learning and understanding."
But Garrison didn't always achieve this level of success on the field, nor did her heart always lie with lacrosse.
From age 6 until high school, Garrison mainly focused her athletic gifts on soccer. But once lacrosse was introduced to Agoura High School during her sophomore year, it opened her up to a whole new ballgame.
Thanks to her many years of kicking around the polyester, the transition from soccer to lacrosse came fairly easy for her.
"I think from soccer, what I learned is being able see the field and understanding the game. It helps me, I think, know to look for what's going to come next. I think that's the biggest help that I've gotten from that," Garrison said.
And although she played mostly on her own team's side of the field, Garrison saw tremendous success on offense, tallying 88 goals and 34 assists in a three-year span.
"In high school I was a defender, but everyone's pretty much a midfielder in high school. It's just, if you can run the ball up the field, you can take a shot," she said.
After taking her game to the next level by committing to CU last year, Garrison had some work to do to fit better into the defensive mold that Elliott and her staff envisioned for her.
"It was overwhelming when I first came here, because I had the athleticism to keep up, I think, but the stick skills were not there. The coaches did a lot to help me with all my ball-handling and just the confidence of being out here and being able to compete at the Division I level," Garrison said.
In the past year, a lot of things have changed for Garrison's game and, as with many D-I athletes, the difference all boils down to self-assurance on the field.
"I think now in her sophomore year, her second year, she has just a little more confidence down there and really understanding what she's capable of doing, and I think that's Kelsie's biggest thing: understanding what she can do and really getting out there and just doing it and not thinking about much else," Elliott said.
With the Buffaloes (11-4, 6-2 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) riding high after two big wins and an overall margin of victory of 35 goals last weekend, confidence is exactly what they'll need from Garrison and their defensive corps heading into their final regular-season game at Oregon (9-5, 4-2) at noon Sunday.
"Oregon's going to be a big game," Garrison said. "I think we're excited to go out there and show them what we can do and just get one more big game in, one more big win in hopefully before conference (tournament). We have a lot to prove and we're excited to do that. It's going to take all of us, but I think we're ready to do it.
Alissa Noe: firstname.lastname@example.org