PREVIEW: No. 5 Pioneers Begin Big East Tournament
STORRS, Conn. – The No. 5 nationally-ranked Denver Pioneers women’s lacrosse team begins its postseason on Friday against the Villanova Wildcats in the semifinals of the Big East Conference Tournament.
Denver is the top seed and will face No. 4 seed Villanova in the second game of the tournament at 2 p.m. MT at Joseph J. Morrone Stadium on the campus of the University of Connecticut. No. 2 seed Marquette will play host and No. 3 seed UConn in the other semifinal earlier on Friday at 11 a.m. MT. Both semifinal contests will be streamed on the Big East Digital Network on FloSports.com.
The winners from Friday will face off in the championship and an automatic berth into the national tournament on Sunday at 10 a.m. MT. That contest will be broadcasted on national TV on Fox Sports 2.
DU completed an undefeated regular season and earned the conference’s main campaign title last Saturday with a 12-5 win at then-No. 24 Marquette. The Pioneers’ 17-0 record is tied for the longest winning streak in program history.
Denver has won each of the nine all-time matchups against Villanova, including both semifinal meetings in the tournament in 2019 and 2021. The Pios won 17-4 versus the Wildcats earlier this season on April 1 at Peter Barton Stadium.
Villanova is coming off a bye week as it last played at home on senior day on April 23, losing 12-8 to Marquette. The Wildcats had won three games in a row prior to that defeat.
The Pioneers have reached the conference championship game every year since joining the Big East in 2017. Denver has won each of the last two tournament titles, winning in 2021 over UConn in Washington, D.C. and last season in overtime against Georgetown while serving as the host institution.
DU is going for its fourth-ever conference tournament title, as the program also won the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championship in 2014.
LAST TIME OUT: The then-No. 3 Pioneers secured the Big East regular-season championship in the de facto title game last Saturday with a 12-5 win at No. 24 Marquette. Denver led 3-0 after the first quarter and 5-4 at halftime before holding the nation’s third-ranked offense to just one goal in the second half.
Lauren Black led DU with three goals and one assist, and seniors Julia Gilbert (2g/1a) and Ellie Curry (2g/0a) also scored multiple times. Graduate student Kayla DeRose registered one goal and one assist for the Pios, who received a 10-save performance from goalkeeper Emelia Bohi.
- Denver’s nationally top-rated defense held the NCAA’s third-scoring offense to single-digit goals for the first time this season, as the Pioneers shutout the Golden Eagles in both the first and fourth quarters and only allowed one goal in the second half. MU was held scoreless in the first quarter for the first time all season.
- DU improved to 8-0 all-time against Marquette and 7-0 in Big East play.
- The Pioneers have scored double-digit goals in 11-straight games and did not allow a team to tally more than nine goals against them during the regular season.
- DU outscored Big East foes by a 100-30 overall margin in six conference outings.
- Graduate student Trinity McPherson had five ground balls, one draw control and one caused turnover vs. Marquette.
- Senior Sam Thacker’s six caused turnovers were tied for the seventh-most in a game in school history (record is 8).
- Sophomore Lauren Black scored a hat trick for the third-straight game.
- Senior Julia Gilbert tallied in all 17 games during the regular season, and senior Ellie Curry extended her point streak to 12-straight contests.
- Goalkeeper Emelia Bohi posted her second career double-digit save performance (12 saves on Feb. 18, 2023 at Colorado).
REGULAR SEASON CHAMPIONS: Denver won its fourth straight regular-season championship in the Big East with the victory at Marquette on April 29, having raised the trophy every year since 2019 (was not awarded in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic).
Overall, it was the Pioneers’ 10th such regular-season title, as they had also won six such championships in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2013 and 2014. DU joined the Big East starting in the 2017 campaign.
NATIONAL PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Senior defender Sam Thacker was named the IWLCA National Co-Defensive Player of the Week on Tuesday after tying a career high with six caused turnovers and adding five ground balls and three draw controls. She shared the award with Vermont’s Carolyn Carrera, who had six caused turnovers and set the school and American East Conference record with 56 on the season last weekend.
This is Thacker’s third national player of the week award of her career, the most of any player in program history. She was also named Defensive Player of the Week twice as a junior on March 8, 2022 and March 15, 2022.
Denver has earned three such national awards this season and eight overall, as Julia Gilbert was named Co-Offensive Player of the Week on March 7 and Bryn McCaughey was recognized as Defensive Player of the Week on March 21. Kailee Lammers (Defense, March 1, 2022), Carson Gregg (Defense, Feb. 11, 2020) and Elizabeth Behrins (April 5, 2017) are DU alums that also earned national weekly recognition.
BIG EAST PLAYERS OF THE WEEK: The conference recognized two Pios with weekly awards on Monday as senior Ellie Curry was chosen as the Big East Midfielder of the Week and goalkeeper Emelia Bohi was named Defensive Player of the Week.
Curry picked up her sixth Midfielder of the Week award of the season after scoring twice vs. Marquette for her 10th multi-goal game of the year. Bohi made 10 saves against the Golden Eagles—the second-most in a game in her career—to earned her third such defensive player award of her career and second of the season (Feb. 13).
BIG EAST HONORS: Nine Pioneers picked up Big East season accolades, the most among any team in the conference. Senior Sam Thacker repeated as the Big East Defensive Player of the Year as a unanimous selection and senior Julia Gilbert was named a co-winner of the Attacker of the Year award.
This is the fourth straight season that DU won both the Defensive Player and Attacker of the Year awards. Kate Fischer (2019) and Molly Little (2021) were also recognized with the top defender award, while Bea Behrins earned attacker accolades in 2021 and 2022 and Quinten Hoch-Bullen in 2019
Both Thacker and Gilbert were named to the All-Big East First Team alongside teammates Emelia Bohi, Ellie Curry and Trinity McPherson. DU was represented on the Second Team by Lauren Black, Ryan Dineen, Bryn McCaughey and Abby Jenkins. Denver had the most overall players recognized on All-Big East Teams ,and the most on both the First Team (5) and Second Team (4) in the conference.
IN THE CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT: The Pioneers have made it to the Big East Tournament and reached the championship game every year since joining the league in 2017. DU owns a 7-3 record in the Big East Tournament, defeating UConn to win the 2021 title and Georgetown last season while serving as hosts at Denver.
Overall, the Pioneers sport a 17-17 mark all-time in conference tournament games in the Big East, Mountain Pacific Sports Federation and Mountain Pacific Lacrosse League. DU is going for its fourth such tournament title, as it also won in 2014 in the MPSF.
ROAD WARRIORS: Denver has a 10-0 record away from home this season, the most wins by any NCAA program this year. DU made three trips to the U.S. eastern seaboard during the 2023 campaign and played seven games in the eastern time zone.
Overall, the Pioneers visited seven states outside of Colorado during the year, with them also playing games in Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio (2x), Maryland, Florida, Connecticut and Wisconsin.
DU picked up a road victory at then-No. 5 Maryland on March 5—was just the sixth home loss by the Terrapins in coach Cathy Reese’s tenure—and a neutral-site win over then-No. 4 Boston College on April 19 in Jacksonville, Florida.
BIG IN THE BIG EAST: DU went 6-0 in Big East play this year, completing its fourth-straight season with an undefeated conference record (no conference games in 2020 due to COVID-19). The Pioneers have won 27 consecutive Big East regular-season games dating back to April 28, 2018. Denver’s last loss to a conference opponent in the main campaign was an 18-13 defeat vs. Florida on April 21, 2018.
STREAKING: Denver completed its first undefeated regular season and is off to its best start to a campaign in program history at 17-0. Overall, the 17-game winning streak is tied for the longest in school history with the 2014 squad (March 5-May 9, 2014).
THACKER PART OF ELITE 40-40-25 CLUB: Defender Sam Thacker is one of three players in the nation that have recorded at least 40 caused turnovers, 40 ground balls and 25 draw controls entering this week’s games.
The Lutherville, Maryland, native has 45 caused turnovers, 43 ground balls and 29 draw controls this year and joins Rutgers’ Meghan Ball (59 CT, 49 GB, 97 DC) and Iona’s Kira Varada (40 CT, 44 GB, 70 DC) as the only players in the country to reach each of those marks.
JENKINS CLOSING IN ON ANOTHER DRAW CONTROL RECORD: Junior draw specialist Abby Jenkins is on the verge of setting the program’s single-season draw controls record, one year after etching the previous mark. She has 104 draw controls in 2023 and needs just six to surpass the 109 that she earned last season as a sophomore. Jenkins broke the single-season record that was previously held by Maddie Baum (108) in 2018.
‘Juice,’ as her teammates call her, has 268 draw controls over the course of three seasons and set the school record for the most in a Denver career on April 1 vs. Villanova, surpassing the previous mark of 225 by Kiki Boone (2012-2015), a previous coach of hers. Jenkins had 55 draw controls as a freshman in 2021, and she ranks 14th among active players in total draw controls and is one of two such players on that list who are juniors (Aubrey Williams, Virginia, 327).
On March 13 vs. Delaware, Jenkins recorded 15 draw controls, tying Baum (March 15, 2019 vs. Gardner-Webb) for the second-most in game in program history. Baum owns the single-game record of 16 draw controls on March 10, 2018 vs. Niagara. Jenkins had 10 draws on last Saturday, April 22 vs. Georgetown, marking the third time this season and seventh time in her career with double-digit totals in a single contest. She owns seven of the top 16 draw-control games in the school record books—the most among any player.
BALANCED SCORING: DU has nine different players with 10 or more goals this season and five with 20-plus markers. The Pioneers’ nine players with 10+ goals tie the 2021 squad for the most in a single season in program history, while their players with 20 or more markers are two shy of matching the school record of seven in 2013. Overall, 16 different players have tallied at least once this season.
The Pios have scored double-digit goals in each of the last 11 games and are outscoring opponents by an average score of 14.1-5.6 in that span since March 9 (155-62 total). DU’s overall margin of victory this season is 7.24, the fifth-highest in the country.
DOMINANT D: The Pioneers rank first in the country in scoring defense by allowing just 5.76 goals per game, the lowest since 2015 when Stony Brook allowed 5.50 goals per game. Loyola is second at 6.76 and James Madison is third at 7.18 goals against per game.
Denver hasn’t allowed double-digit goals in a game this season, as the season-high against is nine by UConn on April 8.
The Pioneers are second in the country in caused turnovers per game at 12.82 and have recorded double-digit CTs in 16-of-17 games, including in each of the first 12 outings of the season to set a school record to begin a campaign (previous: 11 in 2021). DU is fifth in the NCAA in draw controls percentage at 62.0 percent.
Sam Thacker is fifth in the country and first in the Big East in caused turnovers at 2.65 per game. Bryn McCaughey is tied for 40th in the nation and third in the conference at 1.71 per game. Trinity McPherson ranks fourth in the Big East and 55th nationally by forcing 1.59 turnovers per outing.
HISTORY VS. VILLANOVA: The Pioneers have never lost to Villanova Wildcats, sporting a 9-0 all-time record. The teams will be meeting in the Big East Tournament for the third time, with each of the previous two occurrences also coming in the semifinals. DU won 16-9 in 2021 in Washington, D.C. and 15-5 in 2019 in Milwaukee, Wis. Denver won 17-4 earlier this season at home on April 1. The Pioneers have scored at least 14 goals in every matchup with the Wildcats, who have been held to 10 or fewer goals in each of the previous nine meetings.
SCOUTING THE WILDCATS: Villanova is coming off a bye week as its last game was a 12-8 home loss to Marquette on senior day on April 23. Prior to that defeat, VU had won three games in a row. The Wildcats finished the regular season with an 11-5 overall record and a 3-3 mark in Big East play. Sydney Pappas leads the team with 52 goals and 63 points on the season, while Sami Cary (25g/28a) and Caroline Curnal (39g/8a) also have recorded more than 20 goals this year. Curnal ranks first in the conference with 147 draw controls. Kayla Guimi ranks fourth on the team in scoring with 40 points and leads the group with 30 assists. Cate Gallagher has started nine games this year for VU in net and owns a 5-4 record, 11.63 GAA and .432 save percentage. Olivia Conquest has guarded the pipes in seven outings and has a 5-1 mark, 10.03 GAA and .496 save percentage.
LAST TIME VS. VILLANOVA (April 1, 2023): DU began Big East Conference play in dominating fashion as the then-No. 4 Pioneers posted their largest margin of victory of the season with a 17-4 win over the Villanova Wildcats 17-4 at Peter Barton Stadium. Three Pioneers had hat trick as Julia Gilbert and Raegan Wilson both tallied four goals apiece and Ellie Curry recorded three markers while also adding an assist. Gilbert also had three assists to finish with a season-high seven points. Abby Jenkins recorded six draw controls in the game and now has 227 in her career to set a new program record. Jenkins surpassed Kiki Boone’s previous mark of 225 draws from 2012-2015. Goalkeeper Emelia Bohi made 4-of-8 saves.
CONNECTIONS: Villanova seniors Addie Fischer and Nina Mainello went to Notre Dame Prep in Maryland, the same school as Denver seniors Charlotte Boote, Ellie Curry and Lila Knott and sophomores Caroline Colimore and Ella Colimore. VU sophomore goalie Cate Gallagher and DU freshman Carly Frohnapfel are both from Chatham, N.J., and attended Chatham High School.
SENIOR CLASS SUCCESS: Denver has combined for 73 wins and just 10 losses in the last five seasons, a record that ranks third in the country over the time span. The Pioneers trail only North Carolina (80) and Boston College (79) in senior class wins (as of Wednesday, May 5, 2023).
GILBERT AT THE 8-METER: Senior Julia Gilbert has scored 14 free-position goals this season, tied with Ali Flury (2009), Kristie Leggio (2006) and Stephanie Greenlees (2006) for the fourth-most in a single campaign in program history. It is the most free-position goals by a Pioneer since Julia Feiss scored 15 in 2018. The program record is 17 in 2010 by Ali Flury.
Ranking 28th overall in the country in tallies per game from the eight-meter (0.82), Gilbert’s .700 free-position percentage (14-for-20) is the sixth-best in the nation.
Freshman Ryan Dineen ranks behind Gilbert in free-position percentage on the team (and in the conference) and 11th in the NCAA at 64.7 percent (11-for-17).
PIONEERS IN THE POLLS: Denver remained No. 3 Nike/USA Lacrosse Magazine poll on Monday but dropped two spots to No. 5 in the Inside Lacrosse Women/IWLCA coaches despite being the only undefeated team in the country and holding the NCAA’s third-ranked offense in Marquette to single-digit goals for the first time all season. DU, which was No. 10 in the preseason, has been placed inside the top 11 in both rankings all season.
Denver is 29-3 all-time as a top-10 team in the country. The Pioneers are 8-30 all-time against teams ranked in the top 10 in the country and is 2-0 this season with wins vs. then-No. 4 Maryland and No. 5 Boston College. This is the first season where the Pioneers have recorded two victories against top-five programs. DU’s RPI is fifth in the country as of Monday, May 1.
UP FOR THE TEWAARATON: Two Denver defenders were named nominees for the Tewaaraton Award, given to the top collegiate player in the country. Graduate student Trinity McPherson and senior Sam Thacker are among 25 women’s players up for the 2023 award, and DU is one of eight schools with multiple nominees.
The five women’s finalists from this group will be selected on May 11, and the award’s ceremony to announce this year’s winner is set for June 1 in Washington, D.C.
DU had three additional players chosen to the Tewaaraton Award watch list earlier this year: goalkeeper Emelia Bohi, midfielder Ellie Curry and attacker Julia Gilbert.
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