The Colorado women's lacrosse team successfully journeyed through much uncharted territory this season, and there likely remains a championship for the Buffaloes to chase in the coming weeks.
However, CU's goal of winning a league championship will have to wait for another season. Unable to keep the top-seeded USC Trojans from building a pair of big leads, the Buffs never led Sunday in a 16-11 defeat in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championship match in Los Angeles.
In a season that saw the fourth-year CU program post its first four victories against ranked programs, the Buffs twice were unable to overcome the tournament-host Trojans, who also topped CU 11-5 two weeks ago.
While it was a frustrating finish to the Buffs' first appearance in the league title game, CU should still be in line for an NCAA Tournament berth when the field is announced May 7.
"I thought we actually shot better and played better offensively than the last time around," CU coach Ann Elliott said. "I thought defensively, we didn't do that well. We needed to make stops. We needed to make plays. I didn't think we stuck to the game plan that well. They have a lot of players that can beat you and we just made it a little too easy for them."
USC broke an early 1-1 tie by scoring four goals in a span of 7 minutes, 6 seconds, later adding another three consecutive goals to push the lead to 8-2 with under 10 minutes remaining in the first half.
To the Buffs' credit they rallied repeatedly throughout the afternoon, scoring the final three goals of the first half to trim the Trojans' lead to 8-5 at the break. USC responded with the first five goals of the second half to build a 13-5 advantage before CU once again chipped away, getting to within 13-9 with 8:25 left and 15-11 with 4:35 left.
The Buffs, though, could get no closer.
Johnna Fusco scored four goals for the Buffs while Miranda Stinson added three. CU leading scorer Darby Kiernan was held without a goal for just the second time this season.
USC's Michaela Michael, the leading goal-scorer in the nation, scored just once against the Buffs two weeks ago but paced the Trojans on Sunday with four goals, a total matched by Gabby McMahon. USC goalie Gussie Johns turned away a steady stream of CU chances to finish with 13 saves. It was the second consecutive MPSF tournament title for USC.
The Buffs will return to Colorado and resume regular workouts this week in preparation for what is expected to be the program's first invitation to the NCAA Tournament.
"We've got to bet getter across the board. We've got to get tougher," Elliott said. "We need people to step up and make plays across the board and do it the way we're asking them to do it. That will be our focus moving forward.
"We don't know where we're going to go. We don't know who we're going to play. And quite frankly we didn't control what we could control, and now we're forced to wait and see what everyone else does."
USC 16, CU 11
At McAlister Field
Los AngelesColorado (16-3)56—11USC (16-3)88—16
Goals — Colorado: Fusco 4, Stinson 3, Cox 2, Macleay, Moore; USC: Michael 4, McMahon 4, Del Core 3, Huff 3, Drexel, Jackson.
Assists — Colorado: Kiernan 2, Moore, Cox. USC: Del Core 2, Miller 2, Jackson.
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Colorado: Soenksen (60-16-5); USC: Johns (60-11-13).