Loss at DU a month ago propelled late-season surge for CU Buffs lacrosse

Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado’s Sarah Brown, center, and the Buffs learned a lot from their loss against DU on March 29.

Pac-12 Conference women’s lacrosse tournament

MATCHUP: Oregon Ducks (9-8) at Colorado Buffaloes (12-4) in Pac-12 semifinals.

GAME TIME: Friday, 1 p.m., Prentup Field.

BROADCAST: TV — Pac-12 Network.

NOTES: CU senior Darby Kiernan has set program single-season records for goals (57) and points (81). With 24 assists, she needs just one more to match her team record of 25 set last year…Second-leading scorer Miranda Stinson (50 goals, 13 assists) is the third player in CU history to collect 50 goals in a season, joining Kiernan (three times) and Johnna Fusco…The Buffs defeated Oregon 19-9 just a week ago in the regular season finale. The Buffs also won 14-9 at Oregon on March 23 and own a 7-0 mark all-time against the Ducks…On Thursday, Kiernan and goalie Julia Lisella were named to the list of top 25 finalists for the Tewaaraton Award as the nation’s top player…CU coach Ann Elliott and Oregon coach Katrina Dowd were teammates at Northwestern…Second-seeded Stanford will take on third-seeded USC in the second semifinal Friday at 4 p.m. The Trojans topped Arizona State 19-7 in Thursday’s first round…The championship will be held Sunday at noon.

It wasn’t as if a loss at the University of Denver on March 29 was a season-breaker for the Colorado women’s lacrosse team.

Still, it was a notable wake-up call.

Despite a listless 10-8 road loss that day in the final nonconference game of the season, the Buffaloes remained completely in command of their own destiny. All four of CU’s losses at that point were against ranked foes on the road, and the first half of the Pac-12 slate had the Buffs among the league leaders at 4-1.

But that loss to the Pioneers was concerning to CU coach Ann Elliott. She was more than a little disappointed with the effort the Buffs gave from the opening draw, and she made that point clear with her club. The Buffs responded immediately and have been one of the hottest teams in the nation since, taking a five-game winning streak into the inaugural Pac-12 Conference tournament.

The host Buffs open the tourney as the field’s top seed and will face fourth-seeded Oregon in the first semifinal Friday at 1 p.m. at Prentup Field. Oregon advanced with a 22-9 win against Cal in the tournament opener Thursday afternoon.

“While losing is horrible, it definitely teaches you what you have to work on,” senior defender Sarah Brown said. “How you come out and your mentality towards the game, that (DU game) definitely proved that we had to work on that. I think we understood that and we’ve come out hard since.”

After claiming the first regular-season conference title in the program’s five-year history, the Buffs will look to build on a number of postseason firsts they collected a year ago. In 2017 the Buffs reached the league championship game, falling to USC in both programs’ final contest in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, before earning the program’s first bid to the NCAA Tournament.

It was a series of commendable achievements for a program that boasted seniors on its roster for the first time. Yet the Buffs have had a year to stew on the losses they suffered in those matches, and the hope this season is that big-game experience will help CU to march more effectively through the postseason.

“We’re becoming an experienced team in lacrosse with all the classes we have at this point. We’ve played a lot of games,” Elliott said. “Last year, we’ll draw on that experience in many ways. For us, we came up short and we know what it’s like to lose. We know what it’s like to be a little complacent going into a game and have a team come after you.

“This week, we’ve been really focused on us preparing ourselves to get out there and attack from that first whistle. Which is something we’ve really focused on the last three weeks in general.”

The Buffs enter the tournament ranked second in the league and 13th nationally in scoring defense, allowing 9.13 goals per game. While CU features a veteran defense led by seniors Brown and Kelsie Garrison, goalie Julia Lisella has been a big part of that equation as well. In her first year as the starter, the redshirt sophomore leads the Pac-12 with a .534 save percentage. That figure ranks fifth nationally.

“Definitely confidence plays a lot into the game, and I feel like I’ve gained confidence more each game,” Lisella said. “I’m definitely more comfortable playing with our defense, and they’ve done an amazing job in front of me. We’ve been working well together.”

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