Pieces fell into place for CU women lacrosse’s third straight NCAA bid

No. 21 Buffs face No. 18 Dartmouth in first round

Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer
Colorado women’s lacrosse coach Ann Elliott Whidden has her team back in the NCAA tournament.

After losing to USC in the Pac-12 Conference title game a week ago, the Colorado women’s lacrosse team understood a little help was required if the Buffaloes hoped to reach the NCAA Tournament for a third consecutive season.

That help arrived during the week between CU’s loss in the conference title game and Sunday’s selection show, with very few automatic bids to the 26-team NCAA Tournament stolen by upset-minded upstarts among the nation’s other league finales.

And so, after a 5-5 start to the season and several near-misses that cost the Buffs a shot at the Pac-12 regular season crown and set CU on the edge of the NCAA tourney bubble, the Buffs nonetheless will make their third consecutive tournament appearance Friday when they take on Dartmouth in the first round in Boston.

“I think we were in a good spot going into the selection,” CU head coach Ann Elliott Whidden said. “Obviously when you don’t get an automatic bid you have to wait through the other conference’s tournaments. And I think for the most part they ended without too many upsets or anything. It allowed us a good shot at getting an (at-large) bid.  So we’re excited about that.”

CU heads into the tournament ranked 21st in the nation but it was the Buffs’ RPI ranking of 22 following the Pac-12 tourney that put their tourney status into question (CU is No. 21 in this week’s RPI). That tenuous perch grew a little more stable as additional conference tournament results were finalized around the country, and CU certainly helped its cause with an impressive schedule. Eleven of the Buffs’ 17 matches occurred against ranked foes, and while six of those matches were played within Pac-12 competition the Buffs also tackled a nonconference schedule that included No. 9 Michigan, No. 15 Stony Brook, No. 17 Denver, No. 19 Florida, and No. 25 Virginia Tech.

That run will continue this weekend. Dartmouth, which CU plays for the first time in its six-season history, is ranked 18th, and the winner will play Sunday against No. 1 Boston College, the tournament’s second overall seed.

CU owns a 4-7 record against ranked opponents.

“Every year it’s so special, and every year it’s exciting to get this opportunity and to get to this point,” Whidden said. “Every year, in its own way, has its own challenges within it, and this means a lot to me and our players and especially our senior class. I think this year in particular for us was one that we had to battle in a different way. Last year we had to battle a lot of outside challenges, and this year it was a lot more on-the-field things we had, just continuing to grow as a team and fight back.

“I’m really proud of this group. Any time you can get to this point it’s exciting and special.”