Contact CU Independent Sports Staff Writer Olivia Butrymovich at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s been three years in the making for the University of Colorado’s women’s lacrosse team. The Buffs have been preparing for months now and are excited to start off their third season in history with a bang.
Colorado enters the season with high expectations after being voted fourth in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation coaches poll thanks to a strong 11-7 performance last year in the team’s second season. The Buffs rank fourth behind Stanford, USC and Denver heading into this season.
Head coach Ann Elliot is thrilled that the season has finally arrived, and believes that the team is prepared for what’s to come.
“Our goal for this year, through these players, is to continue to get better everyday, to be better than last year, to compete in every game for 60 minutes,” she said. “We want to win games, obviously, but we don’t have an expectation where we look at the schedule and think we can win this one, we can’t that one — these guys take it one game at a time.”
Elliot has now been able to shift her focus to playing a successful game and less on team development, something that required most of her attention during the program’s first two years.
The Buffs have had a busy offseason, adding six freshmen to the roster along with two new assistant coaches. Colorado snagged Alex Frank from Boston College, a team that made three consecutive post-season appearances with Frank in the wings of the coaching staff. Frank also played for Northwestern under Elliot, who was an assistant coach there at the time.
Kailua Kempney also joins the staff after helping lead her alma mater, Syracuse, to four straight semifinals in the NCAA tournament. Kempney graduated in May and assisted the team to a 74-19 over the span of her collegiate career.
With the program’s first class of players entering into its junior year, all of Colorado’s starters from last season are all still present. With 17 juniors, 10 sophomores and one senior, the veterans are excited to continue to expand upon Colorado’s two previous seasons.
“They are all committed to what we’re doing and that makes a difference for this program,” Elliot said. “They all lead in their own ways, and that’s what’s going to make us successful.”
A key player to watch this season is junior attacker Johnna Fusco. Fusco was named to the 2015 All-MPFS First Team after a dominant offensive performance last season. Fusco started, and scored at least one goal, in every game last season. She also led the team with 101 shots on goal.
Along with Fusco, junior goalie Paige Soensken will be a key factor in contributing to Colorado’s success. Soensken was named to the All-MPSF First Team for her second year in a row last season.
She allowed only 158 goals last season and had 151 saves in 18 games which tied her for 18th in total saves in the country.
With a strong balance offensively and defensively, Colorado looks to be well-suited to take on a challenging schedule this season against some top-level programs, which includes a matchup with Notre Dame at the end of this month. The Irish made it into the second round of the tournament last season before falling to Northwestern, who the Buffs will take on midway through the season.
Northwestern is coming off a strong postseason performance, having made it to the quarterfinals of the tournament before losing to the eventual national champions, Maryland.
Along with the difficult non-conference teams, CU will also go up against some tough opponents within the MPFS conference, including Stanford and USC. The Cardinal and the Trojans both made the playoffs last year, as well.
“As a team we have some high goals for this season — we’re looking to make it to the NCAA Championship, so I mean to do that, we need to finish in the top couple spots in our conference,” Soensken said.
The Buffs will face a difficult match will be against Denver this week. Colorado will take on Pioneers in a rematch from last season’s opener. Both coaches and players are anxious to avenge the loss that came late in the game after a Denver surge.
“As of right now, Denver is our biggest game,” Fusco said. “We can set the standards for the rest of our season, so we want to come out as hard as we can — just give ourselves like a good start for the rest of our season.”
The Buffs will play at the University of Denver at 3 p.m. Friday. Colorado will go on the road the following week, traveling to California to take on Fresno State.