CU women's lacrosse preview: St. Mary's

MATCHUP: No. 9 Colorado Buffaloes (13-2, 5-1 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) at St. Mary's Gaels (1-11, 0-6).

GAME TIME: Friday, 6 p.m. MDT, Moraga, Calif.

LEADERS: Colorado — Goals: A Darby Kiernan, Jr., 40; Assists: Kiernan, 17; Points: Kiernan: 57; Goalie: Paige Soenksen, Sr., 7.54 goals-against average, .546 save percentage. St. Mary's — Goals: A Jocelyn Lubert, Jr., 27; Assists: M Jillian Dunlap, Fr., 8; Points: Lubert, 32; Goalie: Meg Sheehan, Fr., 17.81 goals-against average, .288 save percentage; Sydney Pinello, Sr., 21.44 goals-against average, .295 save percentage.

NOTABLE: CU is ranked ninth in all three national polls...The Gaels have lost eight consecutive games since posting their only win of the year on Feb. 26 at Butler...Soenksen ranks third in the nation in goals-against average and fourth in save percentage...As a team CU ranks third in the nation in scoring defense at 7.27 goals per game...CU is 3-0 against St. Mary's and has scored at least 19 goals in each meeting, including a 23-0 win last year...Since returning from a two-game injury absence, CU senior Johnna Fusco has scored 18 goals in six games...Kiernan is on track to become the first player in the four-year history of the program to be CU's outright leader in goals and assists. Fusco almost achieved that feat in 2014 but shared the team lead in assists.


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..St. Mary's is allowing 18.7 goals per game while scoring an average of just 8.7...CU completes the regular season Sunday afternoon at Cal in a match that will be televised on Pac-12 Mountain.

With bigger prizes looming just around the corner, maintaining focus and attention will be the biggest challenge this weekend for the Colorado women's lacrosse team.

The ninth-ranked Buffs close the regular season this weekend with a pair of road games best described as very winnable. Nonetheless, they are wins that remain critical to CU's postseason fortunes.

The Buffs still need victories this weekend to cement one of the top two seeds for next week's six-team Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament, which come with automatic byes into the league semifinals. CU looks to begin putting the finishing touches on that goal Friday evening at last-place St. Mary's.

"These two conference games are as big as any other two," CU coach Ann Elliott said. "We have to make sure we're prepared and ready to go out there and compete and take care of business. Control what we can control. And it's a tough trip. Any time you're going on the road two weekends in a row, and going into back-to-back Friday-Sunday conference games, it doesn't really matter who you're playing, it's tough.

"We're going into environments where we know the teams are going to come out as hard as they can against us. We have to go in with the same attitude."

With two games remaining in the regular season, the Buffs trail league-leading USC by one game. Given the Trojans' victory against CU last week, the Buffs need wins against St. Mary's and in Sunday's match at Cal, combined with the unlikely scenario of two Trojans losses at Stanford and UC Davis, to claim the league's regular-season title.

Perhaps of greater concern for the Buffs is to hold off Stanford for the No. 2 spot in the MPSF. Both CU and the Cardinal are 5-1 in the league, with the Buffs owning the head-to-head tiebreaker. So, assuming the Buffs can knock off a 1-11 St. Mary's team that is allowing 10 more goals per game than it is scoring, a USC win at Stanford on Friday would end CU's fleeting regular-season title hopes yet still lock down that coveted No. 2 spot for the MPSF tournament.

The Buffs rebounded from last week's discouraging loss at USC to rout San Diego State 17-5. Regardless of how the final standings play out, CU would like to add two more similar performances to the momentum it takes into the conference tournament.

The winner of the MPSF tournament earns one of 13 automatic bids to the 26-team NCAA Tournament, though as things stand at the moment CU would be in line for one of the 13 at-large bids.

"We just have to focus on each opponent, first with the one we're going to have on Friday," senior goalie Paige Soenksen. "There's a lot of things we know we have to work on to make sure we're getting better as a team. I think we did fight back (at San Diego State) and I think we're going to continue that play through the rest of our season."

Pat Rooney: rooneyp@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/prooney07