BOULDER — Ann Elliott's dream is just beginning.
When the former Northwestern assistant coach was hired by the University of Colorado as its first women's lacrosse coach in 2012, she said her goal was to build a program from the ground up. Two years later, the Buffaloes have completed their inaugural season with a winning record and laid the groundwork for their future.
"It really is in many ways a dream come true," Elliott said. "And being at the University of Colorado, I don't think there's a better place to build a lacrosse program."
With a young roster consisting of 21 freshmen and two sophomores, Colorado battled its way to a strong debut. The Buffs finished 11-8, 6-3 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF), before falling to No. 18 Stanford 15-6 in the league tournament semifinals.
"It was a day-by-day thing for us, just trying to get better and learning from the day before," said Elliott, 29, "learning from our mistakes and enjoying the victories along the way."
CU is among a wave of schools that have added lacrosse in recent years. From just 37 Division I teams in 1994, the sport blossomed to 103 squads this past season. In Colorado, the rise in participation has helped grow the state's talent — 17 recent high school graduates have signed to play at Division I schools this fall.
"Every year, there's more and more players," Elliott said. "They're such great athletes and great lacrosse players here. For us to recruit in our own backyard, it's such a benefit."
Three of those players — Sarah Brown (Centaurus), Kaley Holmes (Air Academy) and Blair Sisk (Cherry Creek) — will join the Buffaloes next season. Sisk, the 2013 Denver Post player of the year, said she is looking forward to being a part of the sport's growth, especially in the West.
"We're going to do something special at CU," Sisk said.
CU is off to a good start, but for Elliott — who won three national titles as a player at Northwestern and two more as an assistant coach — it's only a start.
"She's probably one of the most intelligent people in lacrosse," Northwestern women's lacrosse coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. "She's very smart; she understands the game — that's the type of player she was."
Helping lead the Buffaloes' charge were attacker Johnna Fusco and goalie Paige Soenksen, who were named to the all-MPSF first team, and midfielder Marie Moore, a second-team selection. Soenksen was the MPSF rookie of the year.
"My biggest goal from the end of August when they stepped on campus to the beginning of May, I wanted to be better," Elliott said. "We definitely got better."
Fusco, a two-time All-American in high school, said she debated continuing her playing career in college but was swayed by CU's coaching staff.
"I think each and every single one of us learned in the first year what we thought we never would have learned," Fusco said. "She (Elliott) builds a very strong connection with all of us."
That connection will be crucial moving into next season as CU adds 13 freshmen.
"We're going to get started fast next year," Fusco said. "We're trying to start to build a tradition in Colorado."
A list of former Colorado high school players who are or will be on the Buffaloes' roster (Class year is for the 2014-15 season):
|Kaley Holmes||M||5-5||Fr.||Air Academy|
|Maddy Krause||A/D||5-5||So.||Regis Jesuit|
|Tori Link||M||5-8||So.||Cherry Creek|
|Blair Sisk||M/D||5-8||Fr.||Cherry Creek|