Familiar hurdle awaits CU women’s lacrosse in MPSF semifinals

Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado’s Miranda Stinson, left, is chased on Stanford’s Maggie Nick on April 7. The Buffs and Cardinal will meet in the MPSF semifinals Friday.

CU women’s lacrosse preview: Stanford

GAME TIME: Friday, 5 p.m. MDT, McAlister Field, Los Angeles.

MATCHUP: No. 3 Stanford Cardinal (12-5) vs. No. 2 Colorado Buffaloes (15-2).

LEADERS: Stanford — Goals: A Kelsey Murray, Sr., 54; Assists: Murray, 27; Points: 81; Goalie: Allie DaCar, Jr., 10.6 goals-against average; .423 save percentage. Colorado — Goals: A Darby Kiernan, Jr., 48; Assists: Kiernan, 20; Points: Kiernan, 68; Goalie: Paige Soenksen, Sr., 7.31 goals-against average, .545 save percentage.

NOTABLE: Kiernan and Johnna Fusco posted four goals apiece to lead CU’s 13-8 home win against Stanford on April 7…The Cardinal has won five of six games since suffering a 13-8 loss at CU on April 7…Elizabeth Cusick (six goals, one assist) and Areta Buness (five goals, one assist) paced Stanford’s offense in a 19-5 first-round win against Cal on Thursday…Kiernan already owns the record for points in a season for CU’s fourth-year program. She needs four goals to match her own goal-scoring record from 2015 and one assist to match Carly Cox’s 2015 record total…The championship match will be played Sunday at 2 p.m. MDT.

It has been a season full of many notable firsts for the upstart Colorado women’s lacrosse program.

So it seems somewhat fitting the Buffaloes will have to clear a familiar hurdle for the first time in order to reach uncharted territory.

On Friday afternoon the second-seeded Buffaloes take on third-seeded Stanford in the semifinals of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament at USC’s McAlister Field. It will be the fourth time in CU’s four years in the league the rivals have met in the MPSF semifinals, with the Cardinal eliminating CU in each of the three previous tournament showdowns.

The Cardinal advanced into the semifinals with a 19-5 opening-round win Thursday against Cal. As one of the top two seeds, CU received a first-round bye for the first time.

“I think we’re ready and I think we’re excited to play (Stanford) again,” CU senior midfielder Marie Moore said. “Maybe we can get a little redemption against them in the semis. Hopefully that’s the case.

In addition to the three consecutive defeats against Stanford in the MPSF semifinals, the Buffs also sported an 0-6 mark all-time against the Cardinal before posting a 13-8 win at home on April 7.

While the victory was a critical one for CU, one of the Buffs’ midseason shortcomings also was exposed against Stanford with a mid-game scoring drought that lasted 31 minutes, 22 seconds. The scoring inconsistency thwarted CU a week later in a top-10 showdown at USC, with a drought of 35:02 contributing heavily to an 11-5 defeat.

At that point, the previously high-scoring Buffs were averaging only 8.3 goals in a four-game span. However in the three games since that setback at USC the Buffs have regained their offensive form, outscoring their foes 59-16 in three lopsided wins.

“I feel like definitely we’re in a better place going into this tournament,” CU senior Johnna Fusco said. “It’s really about our confidence. Those three games helped our confidence and filled that back up. Not scoring, or really even shooting, for 30 minutes is hard to come out of. I think we’ve come out of that, and Ann (Elliott) puts a lot of emphasis on our performance goals and I think focusing in on those has really been a key for us.”

While the Buffs have won their first MPSF tournament game in each of their previous three appearances, those games were first-round matchups leading into the semifinals. A loss Friday probably wouldn’t end the Buffs’ goal of reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time, but advancing to Sunday’s championship match would leave the Buffs in solid position to possibly host a first-round matchup.

“Having an extra day (in California) we can focus on ourselves and go back and fix some of the areas where I think we’ve struggled the past couple weeks,” Elliott said. “It’s different territory for us. For our girls it’s about focusing on one thing at a time, not getting ahead of ourselves. We’ve worked on it this year, that mentality that you have to win Friday to play Sunday. We’ve had a lot of Friday-Sunday games and I think that’s prepared us for the tournament.”

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