PREVIEW: No. 5 Pioneers Ready to Face USC in NCAA First Round
DENVER – The No. 5 Denver Pioneers women’s lacrosse team begins the 2023 NCAA National Tournament on Friday afternoon as it takes on the Southern California Trojans in the first round at 3 p.m. MT at Peter Barton Stadium.
The game will be broadcasted on ESPN+ and tickets are available at DenverPioneers.com.
This is the first time in program history that the Pioneer women have hosted regionals in the NCAA Tournament after they also earned their first-ever national seed for the national championships. DU has hosted seven previous men’s lacrosse first round games at Peter Barton Stadium and also served a neutral-site host for the 2014 second round at Empower Field at Mile High.
Denver is in the national tournament for the fifth-straight season and the seventh time overall after earning an automatic bid for winning the Big East Tournament. The Pioneers defeated the UConn Huskies 11-6 in the Big East Final in Storrs, Connecticut, on Sunday to win their third consecutive conference tournament title and fourth overall.
Southern California also won its conference championship as the Trojans beat the Colorado Buffaloes 12-6 in the Pac-12 Final last Saturday in Berkeley, California. USC has a 16-3 overall record and went 9-1 in Pac-12 play to earn the conference’s regular-season championship.
DU and SC are former members of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation and were conference foes from 2013-2016 before the Trojans moved into Pac-12 Conference for lacrosse and the Pioneers switched to the Big East.
Denver is 4-4 all-time against Southern California, and the teams’ last meeting came in the NCAA Tournament in 2019. The Pioneers won 11-10 in overtime in Ann Arbor, Michigan, before defeating the host Wolverines in the second round to secure a spot in the quarterfinals.
DU is also hosting a first-round matchup between Virginia and Albany on Friday at 6 p.m. MT. The winners of the two opening-round contests will meet in the second round on Sunday at 1 p.m. MT.
IN THE NATIONAL TOURNAMENT: The Pioneers are in the NCAA Tournament for a fifth straight year and the seventh time in program history. DU, which secured an automatic bid by winning the Big East Tournament, has advanced to at least the second round in each of its previous six appearances and reached the quarterfinals in 2019 vs. No. 1 Maryland.
Denver owns a 7-6 all-time record in the national tournament. The Pioneers defeated Vermont 16-3 in Round 1 last year before falling to defending champion and 2022 runner-up Boston College 13-8 in the second round. DU has met USC once before in the NCAA Tournament – 2019 first round in Ann Arbor, Mich., with the Pios winning 11-10 in overtime.
This is the first time in program history that DU earned a national seed and is hosting the first two rounds of the tournament.
BEST IN THE WEST(AND MIDWEST): The Pioneers had six players named to IWLCA All-West/Midwest Region Teams on Thursday, including four to the First Team. Goalkeeper Emelia Bohi, draw specialist Abby Jenkins and defenders Trinity McPherson and Sam Thacker were selected to the First Team, while midfielder Ellie Curry and attacker Julia Gilbert were chosen to the Second Team.
Denver tied with Northwestern for the most overall (6) and first-team members (4) on the All-Region squad. Only Southern California (3) had more second-team players on the list.
For Thacker, this is the third consecutive season that she’s earned All-Region honors, as she was named to the Second Team as a sophomore in 2021 and the First Team as a junior in 2022. This is McPherson’s second time being named to an All-Region squad, as she was a First-Team All-Mid-Atlantic member as a senior at Johns Hopkins in 2021.
BOHI NATIONAL PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Sophomore goalkeeper Emelia Bohi was named the IWLCA National Defensive Player of the Week on Tuesday after totaling 18 saves, two ground balls and two caused turnovers in the two games of the Big East Tournament. She had five saves in the semifinals against Villanova before stopping a career-high 13 shots in the final against UConn.
This is Bohi’s first career national player of the week honor and the fourth of the season, joining Sam Thacker from last week (Co-Defensive, May 2), Julia Gilbert (Co-Offensive, March 7) and Bryn McCaughey (Defensive, March 21).
Overall, DU has been recognized with nine such IWLCA weekly awards in program history.
LAST TIME OUT: Denver claimed the Big East Championships on Sunday with an 11-6 win at the Connecticut Huskies in conference championship game in Storrs. The Pioneers forced UConn into 18 turnovers—10 of which were caused—and had a 16-5 edge in draw controls.
Julia Gilbert led DU offensively with a game-high four goals on 12 shots, while Sloane Kipp (2g/2a) and Ryan Dineen (2g/2a) also had four-point performances. Goalkeeper Emelia Bohi made a career-high 13 saves and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the weekend and was joined on the All-Tournament Team by teammates Gilbert, Gracie DeRose, Bryn McCaughey and Sam Thacker.
- Denver is now 10-0 all-time against UConn and is 3-0 in the Big East Tournament.
- The 2023 championship game was a rematch of the 2021 final between DU and UConn in Washington, D.C.
- The Pioneers are now 3-3 against host teams in conference tournaments.
- Emelia Bohi is the first Big East goalie to be named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament since Loyola’s Kerry Stoothoff in 2012.
- Abby Jenkins earned seven draw controls, Trinity McPherson won five and Sam Thacker had three.
- Bryn McCaughey led DU’s defensive unit with five ground balls and five caused turnovers, the latter of which was a career high.
- Sam Thacker was named to the Big East All-Tournament Team for the third consecutive season, while Julia Gilbert was named to it for the second straight year.
- Thacker leads all active players with 157 career caused turnovers and ranks third with 2.38 per game.
- Julia Gilbert scored her 15th free-position goal of the season, moving into a tie for third place with Julia Feiss (2018) for the most in a single campaign in school history.
- Gilbert’s four goals were tied for the ninth-most in a conference tournament game in school history (13 times previously).
- Gilbert surpassed the 50-goal mark for the first time in her career on Sunday, setting a new personal best (previous: 47, 2022).
- Emelia Bohi’s 13 saves were tied for the fourth-most in a conference tournament contest.
- Bryn McCaughey’s five ground balls were tied for the sixth-most in a conference tourney outing.
- DU’s 16 draw controls were tied for the fifth-most in a conference tournament game, while its 10 caused turnovers were tied for the eight-most.
- Sam Thacker has 46 caused turnovers this season, tied with Kate Henrich for the third-most in a single campaign in school history. She owns the second spot after forcing 64 turnovers last year.
- Ryan Dineen had 45 points (25g/20a) in eight games against Big East Conference opponents this year—the most among all freshmen in the league.
BIG EAST CONFERENCE CHAMPIONS, AGAIN: The Pioneers won their third consecutive conference tournament and became the first Big East squad to accomplish the feat since the Florida Gators won four in a row from 2015-2018. Overall, it was DU’s fourth such conference title as the school also won the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament in 2013 in addition to the Big East championships in 2021 and 2022.
Denver improved to 9-3 all-time in the Big East Tournament and 19-17 overall in conference tournaments that also include contests in the MPSF and Mountain Pacific Lacrosse League. The Pioneers have reached the conference championship game in each of the last 10 years (since 2013), including the last six in the Big East.
The Pios also won the Big East’s regular-season championship, earning the trophy for the fourth-straight year (2019, 2021, 2022, 2023). It was the Pioneers’ 10th such regular-season title, as they had also won six such championships in the MPSF in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2013 and 2014. DU joined the Big East starting in the 2017 campaign.
STREAKING: Denver completed the only undefeated regular season in program history (17-0) and is on a 19-game winning streak, the longest in the school record books. The previous longest winning streak for the program was 17 games in a row from March 5-May 9, 2014.
HISTORY VS. USC: The Pioneers are 4-4 all-time against the USC Trojans and own a 1-3 mark in home games. The teams have met in the NCAA Tournament once in their history, which was also the last meeting between the squads. DU won 11-10 in overtime on May 10, 2019 in the first round in Ann Arbor, Michigan, en route to its first NCAA Quarterfinals appearance that year. Eliza Radochonski scored the game-tying goal at 4:43 of the second half and then buried the overtime-winner two minutes in the extra frame of that contest. Denver and Southern California, which began its program in 2013, spent four seasons as conference foes in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation from 2013 to 2016 before the Pac-12 Conference officially formed for women’s lacrosse and the Pioneers switched to the Big East. Counting three meetings in the MPSF Tournament, DU is 2-2 all-time against USC in postseason matches. The Pioneers won the first three all-time meetings and are 1-4 in the last five matchups.
SCOUTING THE TROJANS: The Trojans are 16-3 on the season and are on a seven-game winning streak. They went 9-1 during Pac-12 play, earning the regular-season championship before doubling up with the tournament title as well. SC defeated Arizona State 9-5 in the conference semifinals on Thursday, May 4 before defeating Colorado 12-6 in the championship game last Saturday. Southern California’s only losses during the year came on opening weekend at then-No. 3 Boston College on Feb. 11, at No. 16 Princeton on March 10 and at Stanford on April 2. Maggie Brown leads the Trojans with 40 goals on the season and has also added 10 assists. Isabelle Vitale is first on the squad in overall scoring with 69 points on 36 goals and 33 assists. Ella Heaney is second in assists with 26 and in points (58). Goalkeeper Kait Devir has started in all 19 games, owning a 16-3 record, 7.51 goals-against average and .461 saver percentage.
PREVIOUS MEETING (May 10, 2019): DU defeated USC 11-10 in overtime in Ann Arbor, Mich., to advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. An overtime-winner from Eliza Radochonski propelled the Pioneers past the Trojans. She led the DU with three goals in the contest, on top of earning her 100th career point. Following Radochonski’s hat trick, Bea Behrins, Julia Feiss and Kendra Lanuza all posted two goals against the Trojans. Elizabeth Behrins and Quintin Hoch-Bullen tallied one apiece. Radochonski and Lanuza led the team with five points each. Maddie Baum won four draw controls. Goalkeeper Carson Gregg started and made six saves, while Amelia Cole finished and stop one shot.
CONNECTIONS: USC’s Catherine Lord and Sloane Murphy are both from Denver, as Lord went to Regis Jesuit High School and Murphy attended Colorado Academy … Southern Cal’s Christian Gagnon is from Baltimore, the same hometown as Denver’s Trinity McPherson … SC’s freshman Lillie Bea Cope and DU senior Sam Thacker both attended McDonogh School in Maryland … Sophomore Kailey Pelkey went to Notre Dame Prep in Maryland, the same high school as Denver seniors Charlotte Boote, Ellie Curry and Lila Knott and sophomores Caroline Colimore and Ella Colimore … Senior goalkeeper Victoria Macres is from California, but from the northern part of the state in Granite Bay… Senior manager Sarah McLean is from Southern California—Encinitas in the San Diego area.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE BRACKET: Denver has never played Virginia and has faced Albany only once in its history. DU and UAlbany’s only meeting came on March 28, 2010 in Upstate New York, with the Great Danes winning 11-10.
PARTY ON PETEY B: Denver went 7-0 at Peter Barton Stadium during the regular season and is on a 10-game winning streak on its own turf dating back to April 30, 2022. The Pioneers own a 35-3 record in their last 38 contests at Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium (since start of 2019) and are 49-6 in home games since the start of the 2017 campaign. Denver owns a 130-24 all-time record at Barton Stadium, which opened in 2005.
DU had a 21-game home winning streak come to an end last season with a loss vs. No. 1 Boston College on March 9, 2022. It was the Pios’ first defeat at Peter Barton Stadium since Feb. 26, 2019 (12-10 loss vs. Michigan).
ROAD WARRIORS: Denver has 12 wins away from home this season, the most by any NCAA program this year. DU has made four trips to the U.S. eastern seaboard during the 2023 campaign and played nine games in the eastern time zone.
Overall, the Pioneers visited seven states outside of Colorado during the year, with them also playing games in Connecticut (2x), Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio (2x), Tennessee 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.
USA LAX MAGAZINE ALL-AMERICANS: Six Pioneers were recognized as USA Lacrosse Magazine All-Americans, the publications released on Tuesday. Sam Thacker led the group by being named to the First Team, while Julia Gilbert and Trinity McPherson were both named to the Second Team. Emelia Bohi, Ellie Curry and Bryn McCaughey were chosen as Honorable Mentions.
JENKINS SETS ANOTHER DRAW CONTROLS RECORD: Junior draw specialist Abby Jenkins set the program’s single-season draw controls record on May 5 against Villanova and now has 118 draw controls in 2023. This comes one year after setting the previous mark of 109 as a sophomore, breaking Maddie Baum’s record of 108 from 2018
‘Juice,’ as her teammates call her, has 282 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.
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 13 games and are outscoring opponents by an average score of 13.7-5.8 in that span since March 9 (178-75 total). DU’s overall margin of victory this season is 7.0, the sixth-highest in the country.
DOMINANT D: The Pioneers rank first in the country in scoring defense by allowing just 5.84 goals per game, the lowest since 2016 when Southern California allowed 5.81 goals per game. Loyola is second at 6.63 and James Madison is third at 7.28 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 12.58 (Campbell, 14.11) and have recorded double-digit CTs in 18-of-19 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 third in the NCAA in draw controls percentage at 62.7 percent.
Sam Thacker is sixth in the country and first in the Big East in caused turnovers at 2.42 per game. Bryn McCaughey is 27th in the nation and second in the conference at 1.84 per game. Trinity McPherson ranks fourth in the Big East and 50th nationally by forcing 1.63 turnovers per outing.
THACKER PART OF ELITE 40-40-30 CLUB: Defender Sam Thacker is one of six players in the nation that have recorded at least 40 caused turnovers, 40 ground balls and 30 draw controls entering this week’s games.
Thacker now has as team-high 46 caused turnovers and has picked up 46 ground balls and 33 draw controls this year. She is joined Rutgers’ Meghan Ball (60 CT, 51 GB, 101 DC), Maryland’s Abby Bosco (40 CT, 40 GB, 91 DC), Niagara’s Sydney Huhtala (41 CT, 45 GB, 39 DC), Mercer’s Emma Pizzo (41 CT, 47 GB, 52 DC) and Iona’s Kira Varada (40 CT, 44 GB, 70 DC) as the only players in the country to reach each of those benchmarks entering the week.
BETTER THAN 50-50: Graduate student defender Trinity McPherson leads Denver with 51 ground balls and ranks second on the team with 54 draw controls. She is one of four players in the NCAA with at least 50 ground balls and 50 draw controls, joining Rutgers’ Meghan Ball (51 GB, 101 DC), George Washington’s Stella Ray (60 GB, 59 DC) and Sacred Heart’s Clair McElhenny (50 GB, 61 DC).
SENIOR CLASS SUCCESS: Denver has combined for 74 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 15 free-position goals this season, tied with Julia Feiss (2018) for the third-most in a single campaign in program history. The program record is 17 in 2010 by Ali Flury.
Ranking 33rd overall in the country in tallies per game from the eight-meter (0.79), Gilbert’s .682 free-position percentage (15-for-22) is the sixth-best in the nation.
Freshman Ryan Dineen has 13 free position goals on the year and ranks tied for eighth with Ali Flury for the most in a single campaign. Dineen ranks behind Gilbert in free-position percentage on the team (and in the conference) and 12th in the NCAA at 65.0 percent (13-for-20).
PIONEERS IN THE POLLS: Denver is the No. 5 overall seed in the national tournament, the first time in program history the team earned a seed for the NCAA postseason. Despite being the only undefeated team in the country and winning the Big East Championship, DU remained No. 5 in the Inside Lacrosse Women/IWLCA coaches poll and dropped from third to fourth in the Nike/USA Lacrosse Magazine poll on Monday. The Pioneers, who were No. 10 in the preseason, has been placed inside the top 11 in both rankings all season.
Denver is 31-3 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.
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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