In six seasons since women’s lacrosse became an official sport at the University of Colorado, coach Ann Elliott Whidden has quickly built an impressive national pedigree.
The Buffaloes have reached the NCAA Tournament in each of the past two seasons, doing so the first time in CU’s fourth season of varsity play. The Buffs won the inaugural Pac-12 Conference regular season crown a year ago and have become a mainstay in the weekly national rankings.
Winning a conference tournament, however, is becoming frustratingly elusive.
On Sunday, CU played in a conference title game for the third consecutive year but encountered a familiar fate, suffering a 12-3 loss against top-seeded USC in the Pac-12 Conference championship match at Oregon’s Pape Field. The Buffs also lost last year’s Pac-12 title game at home against Stanford and lost to the Trojans in the 2017 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championship game.
USC made quick work of the second-seeded Buffs Sunday, scoring the game’s first seven goals to back its regular season title with the Pac-12 tournament title. The teams had split their regular-season series, with each squad winning on the road.
Sunday’s effort produced a record-low scoring total for the Buffs, who previously had never scored fewer than four goals in a game.
“USC played really well. They’re strong defensively,” Whidden said. “They’re strong in their zone. I don’t think we had enough people being aggressive and we didn’t do enough to handle the pressure they were putting on us and make good decisions. We had too many costly turnovers at key moments. We lost our composure and we weren’t aggressive enough.”
Unlike the aftermath of last year’s title-game loss against Stanford, when CU boasted a much stronger overall season resume, the Buffs will have to cross their fingers to hope for an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament that is unlikely to be extended.
The Buffs sit at No. 23 in the latest RPI rankings and will need significant help to crack the 26-team NCAA field. CU played a very demanding schedule, going 4-7 against ranked foes, but can probably look at a pair of narrow home losses as the culprit behind falling short of a third straight tourney berth — a 9-7 loss against Denver on March 26 and a 13-12 overtime loss against Stanford on April 12.
Whidden said the team would practice this week in case an NCAA tourney berth comes the Buffs’ way when the field is announced May 5.
“Things are now a little out of our control,” Whidden said. “We’ve got to see what happens over the next week in the other conference tournaments. I think we’ve played a tough schedule and I think we won some key games along the way, as well. Hopefully we’ve proven ourselves enough to the committee to get an at-large bid. But it’s out of our control and we just have to wait to see how it all shakes out.”
USC scored goals on five of its first seven shots on Sunday and limited the Buffs to 14 shots on goal. Three players scored multiple goals for the Trojans, including three from Kelsey Huff.
Senior Miranda Stinson led the Buffs’ struggling attack with two goals, and her total of 59 goals on the season is the second-best mark in program history.
No. 17 USC 12, No. 22 Colorado 3
At Pape Field, Eugene, Ore.
Colorado (10-7)12—3USC (16-3)75—12
Goals — Colorado: Stinson 2, Willard; USC: Huff 3, McMahon 2, Ramsay 2, Miller, Concialdi, Flayhan, Anhut, Donovan.
Assists — Colorado: Nemirov, Phillips; USC: Miller 3, McMahon 2, Bakes.
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Colorado: Lisella (60-12-9); USC: Hertford (60-3-11).