The Colorado lacrosse team certainly isn't lacking for confidence.
The dramatic upswing overseen by coach Ann Elliott in what now is just the fourth year of the program's existence has been crafted behind the same adage that fuels so many coaches in so many different sports — defense wins championships.
The Buffaloes begin the week as the nation's leader in scoring defense by a wide margin, holding opponents to just 6.9 points per game. Yet the biggest difference between this year's CU club and the one that fell just short of the NCAA Tournament a year ago might be the team's expanded range of offensive weapons.
As the Buffs prepare to host Fresno State Saturday in a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation match (noon, Kittredge Field), they do so as a team that has evolved so thoroughly that the loss of Johnna Fusco, one of the team's top offensive performers who has missed the past two games due to injury, hasn't slowed CU's production by even a fraction.
"I think offensively for us, it's a lot of the experience that we have. We returned a lot of the same people like we have on defense," CU head coach Ann Elliott said. "Now they've had over a year, from last year, of playing together and figuring out how all the pieces go together. I think they've bought in to being unselfish and moving the ball."
After averaging 12.6 goals per game last year, CU has compiled an average of 16.2 goals per game through the first half of this season, a mark that ranks third in the nation. The Buffs are the only team ranked in the top five nationally in both scoring offense and scoring defense.
The improved offense undoubtedly has been a team-wide endeavor. Six players are on pace to score at least 30 goals, a total reached by Darby Kiernan (36) and Fusco (33) a year ago. Among the biggest offensive jumps this season has been taken by sophomore Miranda Stinson. As a rookie last year she recorded 13 goals and three assists, yet during the Buffs' 9-0 start she has posted 15 goals and 11 assists.
"I think we have much more of a team mentality this year," Stinson said. "Players like Carly Cox and Cali (Castagnola) can step up on any given day because they have support. We're doing a lot better with confidence this year.
"Ann and I talked a lot about that last year, just having confidence. This year, I've got the confidence. Our team, we're not driven by individuals, which is what makes us really good."
With her team ranked in the top six of all three national polls Elliott said Fusco, ranked third on the team with 20 goals, remains day-to-day with her undisclosed injury. Yet on a team that, including ties, has featured 10 different leading goal-scorers in nine games, Elliott has the luxury of not needing to rush Fusco back into the fray with a tough road date looming against a top-10 program at Stony Brook next week.
"Our players know that any given day anyone can step up, and we need everyone to do it in their way," Elliott said. "Sometimes they're going to get a lot of looks. Sometimes it's going to be more difficult for them based on the team we're playing, what the defenses are playing. But everyone will have that opportunity and everyone can finish. They really buy in to that."