DENVER – As it had done throughout its inaugural season, the University of Colorado lacrosse team had a strong presence in the second half, but this time it wouldn’t be enough as the Buffaloes fell 15-6 to No. 18 Stanford in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation semifinals.
“Stanford, they’re a great team in our conference, and they’re competing at the national level to be in the NCAA Tournament,” CU head coach Ann Elliott said. “We knew it was going to be a battle and a tough challenge for us. We were excited about the opportunity. We wanted to come out and compete, but they looked good tonight. They looked fast; they have a lot of weapons. It was tough for us the first 30 minutes. I though our last 30, our kids started playing with a little more confidence. That was good to end on that note.”
Stanford (14-3) was a dominant force in every aspect of the game, taking a season-high 44 shots and limiting CU (11-8) to 18, including just five in the first half. Though Stanford took the most shots of any CU opponent this season, the Buffs’ stellar goalie and MPSF Rookie of the Year Paige Soenksen nabbed 16 saves – just three shy of the career mark she set in the teams’ first meeting on April 6.
The Cardinal controlled the ground, scooping up 10 more ground balls (20 to 10), and the draw, winning five more draw controls (14 to nine). Though Stanford scored just three free-position goals, they took 11 free-position shots to CU’s three. Stanford easily controlled possession by turning the ball over just seven times, while causing 14 of CU’s 19 total turnovers. Stanford’s pressure was especially strong in the midfield, with Colorado successfully clearing the ball just 11 times out of 20 attempts.
“Our defense gave them a lot of second chances, which led to the number of shots,” Soenksen said. “Our defense would get a check and the ball would be on the ground and we just didn’t come up with the ground balls to transition over to attack. We kind of gave them all the opportunities that they had.”
Stanford’s attack was consistent and continuous, with six different players netting goals. Kyle Fraser led the Cardinal with a double hat trick and an assist. Colorado native Lucy Dikeou contributed a hat trick and two assists, while MPSF Player of the Year Hannah Farr had two assists and a goal.
Once Colorado found a late rhythm, they created more opportunities for their top scorers. Johnna Fusco, Sarah Lautman, Marie Moore, Cali Castagnola and Katie Macleay all contributed goals, with Fusco once again pacing the Buffs with three points off two goals and CU’s lone assist.
The No. 2-seeded Cardinal scored nine in a row in the first half to take a 10-2 lead into the intermission. No. 3 seed Colorado looked faster and stronger both offensively and defensively in the second half, scoring four of its six goals while holding Stanford to just five. In 15 of CU’s 19 games this season, the Buffs held their opponent to five or fewer second half goals. Starting in CU and Stanford’s first meeting, the Buffs had 13 straight games where they accomplished this defensive feat.
“They’re a really good team – we knew that coming in,” Moore said. “We knew we were going to have to fight hard and play hard. All credit goes to them; they played really well the first half. I think that once we settled down in the second half, we got into more of a groove and were able to play with them. We were a little rattled in the first half, but I think that it’s a good opportunity and it’s a good experience for us because we need that, playing better teams.”
Stanford played on the next level in the first half, taking 29 of its 44 shots and scoring 10 of its 15 goals. The Cardinal took just 31 seconds to score their first goal, with Farr connecting with Dikeou. The Buffs were able to respond after Maddie DeWinter ran down a wide Stanford shot and the Buffs got on offense. Getting some early momentum, Castagnola put one away unassisted to force the first and only tie of the game in the third minute.
Stanford’s defense and offense both did work, running down ground balls, double-teaming CU’s lead attackers and using speed on the offense. Following CU’s goal, Stanford would take over, going on a 9-0 run that lasted just over 26 minutes.
Despite having a nearly six minute drought between their third and fourth goals, they took nine shots during that span, forcing five of Soenksen’s 10 first half saves. Once they got rolling, they really got rolling, scoring three goals in less than a minute to push their lead to five.
Late in the half, the Buffs began to fight more and more to end Stanford’s scoring run, getting chances in the 21st minute when they got back-to-back free-position attempts while a man-up and again with 6:10 left when DeWinter got a ground ball and helped CU to a successful clear. Stanford would score two more goals during this time. CU would push again with 2:13 remaining before the break as Fusco was fouled at the right edge of the field. She then ran behind the crease, passed to Macleay, who found Moore in the front to take the shot, but it would go just wide.
Back on the attack, Stanford would score back-to-back goals in 11 seconds to push its lead to 10-1 in the final 49 seconds before halftime. With 26 seconds on the clock, the Buffs finally broke back in on the offense, with Macleay narrowing their deficit to eight heading into intermission.
“The momentum began to shift a little bit at the beginning of the second half and towards the end of the first half when we got a few goals in,” Soenksen said. “It’s all about momentum. Whoever has the momentum, it kind of demoralizes the other team and you’ve kind of got to get back. It’s key, really.”
The Buffs came out strong by winning the first draw of the second half, but were a tad too aggressive for the taste of the officials, getting two yellow cards in the first four minutes of the game. Stanford capitalized by scoring back-to-back man-up goals.
Stanford might have seemed to be keeping the momentum heading into the second half, but the Buffs proved their late game strength, holding the Cardinal to just three more goals in the final 15:25 of the game. At 23:38, Fusco netted the Buffs’ third, hammering one home above Lyndsey Munoz’s head. The Buffs got two straight for the first time of the game, getting the ball off a failed Stanford shot attempt, rushing into Cardinal territory as Castagnola found Fusco, who run one in from four meters out to get CU back within eight.
Just as CU was seeming to put a run together, Stanford quickly rebounded, having a response for every CU goal down the stretch. At the second half’s midway point, Laura Klein set up at the 8-meter, dishing to Fraser to help Stanford go back up 13-4. Just 16 seconds later, CU scored again, with Lautman rushing one in from a Fusco assist.
Stanford would put together two more goals in just over three minutes, winning the back and forth battle with CU. Neither team would score for another 10:39. Regardless of the scoreboard, the Buffs would end the game on a high note, with Moore scoring a free-position goal in the final 40 seconds.
Soenksen said that despite seeing their inaugural season end on Friday, she’s proud of her team’s second half fight and looks forward to putting what the team learned to use in the seasons to come.
“We’ve very excited,” Elliott said about the inaugural season. “I just told them they have to hold their heads high. They have nothing to be disappointed in. From August to now, we’re a different team, and if we can continue to improve at that rate, we will be here sooner than later competing at the highest level.”
The conference tournament concludes here Sunday with the championship game between the reigning MPSF tournament champion No. 18 Stanford and 2014 regular season champ No. 20 Denver. First draw is at 11 a.m.