PREVIEW: No. 5 DU Set For Big East Title Game vs. No. 24 UConn
STORRS, Conn. – The No. 5 Denver Pioneers women’s lacrosse team goes for its third consecutive Big East Tournament championship on Sunday at 10 a.m. MT as the Pioneers face host and the No. 24 Connecticut Huskies at Joseph. J. Morrone Stadium.
The conference champion game will be nationally televised on Fox Sports 2.
Top-seeded DU’s meeting with third-seed UConn is a rematch of the 2021 conference final that saw the Pioneers win 16-9 in Washington, D.C. That was Denver’s first of back-to-back Big East titles, as the squad also won in 2022 at Peter Barton Stadium while serving as the hosts.
The Pioneers, who won the Big East regular-season championship for a fourth-straight year this season, defeated fourth-seed Villanova 12-7 in the semifinals on Friday afternoon. DU scored six straight goals in the first half as part of an overall 10-2 run to reach its sixth-straight Big East title game. Denver has reached the championship contest every tournament since joining the league for the 2017 campaign.
Connecticut held off a rally by Marquette in the earlier semifinal game on Friday to win 17-16. Grace Coon scored the game-winner for the Huskies with 2:26 left in the fourth quarter. Prior to DU’s win as the host school last year, the last institution to win the Big East championship on its home turf was Florida in 2018.
Denver is 9-0 all-time against UConn, but the teams have played two overtime outings in their history. This year marks the third-straight season that the squads will play in the tournament, as the Pioneers won 16-6 last year in the semifinal round.
DU has won three previous conference tournament championships, as the Pios also won in 2014 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation in addition to the last two Big East titles. The winner on Sunday earns the conference’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, which starts next week at regional campus sites.
LAST TIME OUT: Denver defeated Villanova 12-7 on Friday afternoon in the conference semifinals in Storrs. Villanova opened the scoring, but DU tallied the next six goals and went on a 10-2 run into the third frame. The Wildcats recorded four of the final six markers of the contest but couldn’t close the deficit.
Ryan Dineen had five points on two free-position goals and three assists, and Sloane Kipp scored three times for the Pios to earn her sixth hat trick of the season. Kayla DeRose, Ellie Curry and Julia Gilbert all tallied twice, and Lauren Black found the back of the net as well. Goalkeeper Emelia Bohi made five saves while adding two ground balls and two caused turnovers.
- Denver is now 10-0 all-time against Villanova. The Pioneers were playing the Wildcats for the third time in the Big East Tournament (3-0).
- The Pioneers improved to 8-3 all-time in the Big East Tournament and 18-17 in all-time conference tournaments.
- Sam Thacker now has 46 caused turnovers this season and moved into a tie with Kate Henrich for the third-most in a single campaign in school history.
- Abby Jenkins’ seven draw controls were tied for the sixth-most in a conference game in school history while Trinity McPherson’s five was tied for 11th.
- Julia Gilbert has a goal in all 18 games this year, while Ellie Curry is now on a 13-game point streak and Lauren Black is on a 10-game run with at least a point.
- Ryan Dineen now has 41 points (23g/18a) in seven games against conference opponents this year—the most among all freshmen in the league.
IN THE CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT: The Pioneers are in the Big East Tournament Championship Game for the sixth-straight season, as they’ve reached the title contest every year since joining the league in 2017.
DU owns an 8-3 record in the Big East Tournament and sports a 18-17 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.
STREAKING: Denver, fresh off completing the first undefeated regular season in program history, stretched its winning streak to 18 games with the victory over Villanova. The 18-game winning streak is the longest in school history, surpassing the 17-game run of the 2014 squad (March 5-May 9, 2014).
HISTORY VS. UCONN: DU is 9-0 all-time against UConn in a series that dates back to March 11, 2008, and the teams will be meeting in the Big East Tournament for the third straight year. Denver won 13-7 in the championship game in 2021 in Washington, D.C., and 16-6 in the semifinals last year at Peter Barton Stadium. The Pioneers won 14-9 earlier this season in the matchup in Storrs on April 8. Denver’s win in the 2021 title game marked its first Big East Tournament Championship.
SCOUTING THE HUSKIES: UConn is 12-5 on the season after holding off Marquette in a 17-16 win the semifinals on Thursday. The Huskies led 14-7 in the third quarter before the Golden Eagles rallied to tie the game at 15-15 and 16-16. Grace Coon scored the game-winner for Connecticut with 2:26 left in the fourth quarter. The Huskies finished third in the Big East standings during the regular season with a 4-2 mark in conference play. Kate Shaffer leads the team with 52 goals and 79 points and is tied with Lia LaPrise in assists with 27. LaPrise is second on the team in scoring with 60 points (33g/27a), while Grace Coon is second in goals (43g/9a). Big East Goalkeeper of the Year Landyn White (12-5) has started in all 17 games for UConn and has a 11.77 goals-against average and .501 save percentage.
LAST TIME VS. UCONN (April 8, 2023): The Pioneers controlled the circle and held an opponent to fewer than 10 goals for the 13th time this season in a 14-9 victory against the then-No. 25 Connecticut Huskies at Morrone Stadium. Denver won the draw-control battle 20-7 and used that possession to connect on the scoreboard. The Pioneers had an 11-5 edge in draw controls the first half and led 9-5 at the break. In the final 30 minutes, DU earned 9-of-11 draws and outscored UConn by a 5-4 margin. Abby Jenkins led the Pioneers with 10 draw controls while Sam Thacker recorded a season-high six. DU was led offensively by three players that registered hat tricks in the contest: Julia Gilbert, Sloane Kipp and Ryan Dineen.
ROAD WARRIORS: Denver has an 11-0 record away from home this season, the most wins by any NCAA program this year. DU has made four trips to the U.S. eastern seaboard during the 2023 campaign and played eight 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 (2x) 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.
JENKINS SETS ANOTHER DRAW CONTROLS RECORD: Junior draw specialist Abby Jenkins set the program’s single-season draw controls record on Friday against Villanova, one year after etching the previous mark. She now has 111 draw controls in 2023, surpassing the 109 that she earned last year as a sophomore. Prior to Jenkins, Maddie Baum previously held the record of 108 in 2018.
‘Juice,’ as her teammates call her, has 275 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, besting 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 16th among active players in total draw controls and is one of two such players on that list who are juniors (Aubrey Williams, Virginia, 329).
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 has recorded double-digit draws in seven contests in her career and owns seven of the top 16 draw-control games in the school record books—the most among any player.
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.
REGULAR SEASON CHAMPIONS: Denver won its fourth straight regular-season championship in the Big East with the victory at Marquette on April 29 and has 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 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.
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