Year on sideline finally ending for No. 24 CU Buffs women’s lacrosse

Buffs open 2021 season at Louisville, Vanderbilt

Colorado goalie Julia Lisella and the Buffs' defense will have their hands full with the Florida offense on
Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer
Colorado goalie Julia Lisella and the Buffs’ defense will have their hands full with the Florida offense on

The Colorado lacrosse team obviously wasn’t the only Buffaloes athletic program that had its season snatched away nearly a year ago. But it was a unique situation nevertheless for coach Ann Elliott Whidden’s club.

While CU’s men’s basketball team, indoor track squad, and ski programs were in the middle of their year-end competitions when the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last March erased the remainder of the 2019-20 athletic calendar, a new-look CU lacrosse team was just finding its stride.

The Buffs were 3-2 when the remainder of the 2020 season was shelved. Bolstered by the return of several 2020 seniors, CU finally will be back on the field on Thursday afternoon as the 24th-ranked Buffs open the season at Louisville.

“In a year like this, our number one goal is to do everything we can to be able to play,” CU head coach Ann Elliott Whidden said. “Our message to ourselves on a daily basis is, we’re not going to take away opportunities from ourselves. And that means we have to do the right things off the field to be able to win on the field. Our main objective is just to make sure every opportunity we have, we’re giving ourselves even if we can’t control anything outside of that.

“This team is a competitive team. We want to win. We think we have the potential to be successful and compete in the Pac-12 and compete nationally.”

CU has reached three consecutive NCAA Tournaments (not counting the canceled 2020 season) and will rely on an otherwise youthful group attackers led by senior Sadie Grozier and junior Charley Rudy to pace the offense. Elliott Whidden expects her club to be stout defensively, with an already-strong defensive corps bolstered by the addition of Dartmouth graduate transfer Kate White.

CU also is welcoming back sixth-year senior goalkeeper Julia Lisella, who opted to return after last year’s truncated season. Lisella was named to the Inside Lacrosse first team All-American team in 2018 while also winning Goalkeeper of the Year honors.

The Buffs are planning to play a 15-game schedule, with five nonconference games along with two games apiece against each of their other Pac-12 foes.

“We felt like we were just starting to make progress. We had a young team in terms of experience last year,” Elliott Whidden said. “Those first few games, we were learning a lot about ourselves. We hadn’t hit our height of what this team was accomplishing. I think having it end as it did was extra hard because we were just starting to really get going five games into the season.

“I think for us, obviously it’s taken so much work to get to this point. And for our student-athletes, a lot of sacrifice off the field as well as the hard work they’re putting in on the field. This is an exciting moment for us, to be able to take the field together. Just to celebrate that we’re able to be out there and play A reward for all the work that they’re doing. We’re really just looking forward to the opportunity to play again. After a year of not playing, obviously that moment is just so special in itself.”

No. 24 CU Buffs women’s lacrosse at Louisville Cardinals

GAME TIME: Thursday, 2 p.m. MT, University of Louisville Lacrosse Stadium.

KEY PLAYERS (top returning with 2020 stats): Colorado — A Charlie Rudy, Jr., (20 goals, four assists); A Chloe Willard, Jr., (10 goals, six assists); A Sadie Grozier, Sr., (10 goals, two assists); GK Julia Lisella, Sr., (.484 save percentage, 10.40 goals-against average). Louisville — A Hannah Morris, Jr. (21 goals, four assists); A Ally Hall, Sr. (18 goals, six assists); M Caroline Blalock, Sr. (13 goals, five assists); GK Rachel Florek, R-Sr. (.503 save percentage, 11.36 goals-against average).

NOTES: CU’s opening road trip continues Sunday at Vanderbilt…This weekend’s games will be the only ones outside the Pac-12 footprint for the Buffs. The remainder of the nonconference schedule includes a home date against San Diego State and a home-and-home set against Denver…Louisville played nine games last year before the season was shut down, going 5-4, and opened the 2021 season on Saturday with a 14-7 loss against No. 8 Florida. Blalock paced the Cardinals’ offense with two goals and two assists, while Florek recorded 14 saves…This is the first matchup between the Buffs and Louisville.