CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The No. 5 Denver Pioneers women’s lacrosse team looks to secure its first berth into the NCAA Final Four on Thursday as it takes on the No. 4 North Carolina Tar Heels in the quarterfinals at 3 p.m. MT at Dorrance Field.
The Elite Eight matchup will be televised nationally on ESPNU and will also be available to be streamed online through ESPN apps.
DU has reached the quarterfinals once before in its history, back in 2019 when it upset No. 8 Michigan in Ann Arbor before playing at No. 1 Maryland in the Elite Eight.
The Pioneers are coming off hosting their first-ever NCAA Tournament games at Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium, as they won 10-7 against No. 18-ranked Southern California on Friday in Round 1 before earning an 8-6 victory versus the University at Albany on Sunday in the Sweet 16.
Julia Gilbert tallied a hat trick for the second straight game in the win over the UAlbany Great Danes and Denver used a four-goal run in the second half to clinch the last quarterfinal spot.
North Carolina also played two outings last week, as the Tar Heels won 16-5 against Sacred Heart in the First Round on Friday before winning 16-12 against Richmond on Sunday. Down 10-9 early in the third quarter, the Tar Heels scored seven of the game’s final nine goals, including three in the final 3:57 to beat the Spiders.
UNC is the defending national champions after going 22-0 last season. The Tar Heels own a 16-4 overall record this season and finished third in the ACC regular-season standings with a 7-2 mark in conference play. North Carolina lost 11-9 to Boston College in the ACC Championship Game on April 30.
DU and UNC will be playing their fifth all-time game against one another and first since March 7, 2011 in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels have won all four previous matchups, with two being played in North Carolina and the other two in Denver.
The Pioneers, who are the only undefeated team in the nation, are one of the most traveled teams in the NCAA this season, as they’ll making their fifth trip to the East Coast and playing their 10th game in the Eastern Time Zone. North Carolina on the other hand has played 16 of its 20 games and each of its last nine contests in its home state.
The NCAA Women’s Lacrosse Final Four is May 26-28 in Cary, North Carolina, which is just outside Raleigh and Chapel Hill.
LAST TIME OUT: The Pioneers secured a spot into the Elite Eight with an 8-6 win over Albany in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday afternoon at Peter Barton Stadium. Tied 3-3 after the first period and 4-4 at halftime, DU used a four-goal run the second half to create separation from the Great Danes.
Julia Gilbert scored three goals for the second consecutive game, Lauren Black also had three points with two markers and one assist, and Sloane Kipp scored on a lot shot after forcing a turnover just prior to the third quarter buzzer. Denver finished 4-for-11 on free position shots, with the team tallying three times from the eight-meter in the second half. Goalkeeper Emelia Bohi finished with six saves and also had two ground balls.
- Denver earned its first win against UAlbany, improving to 1-1 all-time in the series. The teams were meeting for the first time since a neutral-site matchup on March 28, 2010 in Owings Mills, Maryland.
- DU’s 13 caused turnovers were the third-most in an NCAA Tournament game in school history.
- Julia Gilbert’s three goals give her 56 on the year, surpassing Lauren Black’s 53 in 2022 for the ninth-most in a single season in school history. Gilbert now has 137 career goals to take sole possession of ninth place on the team’s all-time list.
- Trinity McPherson grabbed three ground balls and has 59 on the year, moving past Crystal Jack (2005) for sixth place on DU’s all-time single-season list.
- Sam Thacker had four ground balls to give her 150 in her career, moving her into a tie for sixth place in program history along with Kate Henrich (2010-2013) and Mariana Spry (2000-2003).
- Thacker leads all NCAA active players in caused turnovers and ranks third in CTs/game (2.37).
- Ellie Curry had her career-long 15-game point streak end last game (24g/9a).
- Head Coach Liza Kelly is one win away from 300 in her career and owns a 235-76 mark at Denver (.756).
- Denver and North Carolina are two of the top three teams in wins since 2019, as UNC has 82 and DU has 76. The Pioneers have the second-fewest losses in that time (10) behind only UNC (9).
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 previous games in the eastern time zone.
Overall, North Carolina will be the Pioneers eighth state they have visited 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.
McPHERSON NATIONAL PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Graduate student defender Trinity McPherson was named the IWLCA National Defensive Player of the Week on Tuesday after totaling eight ground balls, six draw controls and five caused turnovers in Denver’s win over USC and Albany last weekend. She matched a season high with five GBs and also had three CTs and two DCs vs. the Trojans before recording four DCs, three GBs and two CT against the Great Danes.
This is McPherson’s first career national player of the week honor and the third in as many weeks as Emelia Bohi was honored last week and Sam Thacker was selected on May 2. Julia Gilbert (Co-Offensive, March 7) and Bryn McCaughey (Defensive, March 21) also earned IWLCA weekly awards this year, bringing the school’s total to five—the most in a single season.
Overall, DU has been recognized with 10 such IWLCA weekly awards in program history.
TRINITY FITTING RIGHT IN: In her first season at DU, defender Trinity McPherson has already made a mark in the school’s record books. McPherson has 59 ground balls this season, the sixth-most in a campaign and the most by a DU player since Kate Henrich’s 65 in 2013. She is seven loose balls away from tying the record of 66 held by Tanya Fuchs (2006).
The graduate student also has 36 caused turnovers—the 11th-most in a season—and is tied with the 10th-most draw controls in a campaign with 60.
McPherson, who transferred from Johns Hopkins after taking a gap year, 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 Claire McElhenny (52 GB, 64 DC).
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 has a team-high 50 caused turnovers and has picked up 52 ground balls and 40 draw controls this year. She is joined by Rutgers’ Meghan Ball (60 CT, 51 GB, 101 DC), Maryland’s Abby Bosco (47 CT, 43 GB, 98 DC), Niagara’s Sydney Huhtala (41 CT, 45 GB, 39 DC), Mercer’s Emma Pizzo (41 CT, 48 GB, 53 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. Only Thacker and Ball are part of the 50-50-40 club this year.
30-FOR-30-FOR-30: The Pioneers are the only program in the country that has three players with at least 30 caused turnovers this season, as senior Sam Thacker leads the team with 50, junior Bryn McCaughey is second with 37 and graduate student Trinity McPherson is third with 36.
This is the first time in school history that DU has three players with 30+ caused turnovers. Overall, only four other Division-I teams this year have two players with 30-plus caused turnovers: Campbell, Fairfield, Gardner-Webb and USC.
AT THE 8-METER: Senior Julia Gilbert tied the school record for the most free-position goals in a single season by scoring from the eight-meter for the 17th time this year, tying the mark that is held by Ali Flury (2010). Ranking 30th overall in the country in tallies per game from the eight-meter (0.81), Gilbert’s .708 free-position percentage (17-for-24) is the fourth-best in the nation.
Sophomore Lauren Black scored twice with free positions on Sunday vs. Albany and now has 15 such goals on the year, tied with Julia Feiss for fourth on the team’s all-time list. Freshman Ryan Dineen ranks tied for ninth on the program’s single-season table with 13 free-position goals.
Dineen ranks behind Gilbert in free-position percentage on the team (and in the conference) and 12th in the NCAA at 59.1 percent (13-for-22). Black is third at 55.6 percent.
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 the quarterfinals once before in its history – 2019 when it played at No. 1 Maryland. This is the first time in program history that DU earned a national seed and hosted the first two rounds of the tournament.
Denver owns a 9-6 all-time record in the national tournament and has advanced to at least the second round in each of its seven appearances. The Pioneers defeated Vermont 16-3 in Round 1 last year before falling to 2021 champion and 2022 runner-up Boston College 13-8 in the second round.
HISTORY VS. NORTH CAROLINA: Denver is set to play UNC for the fifth time in its history and the first since a matchup on March 7, 2011 at Peter Barton Stadium. The Pioneers are 0-4 all-time against the Tar Heels, with both teams playing two games at home and on the road. DU lost 13-3 in that previous meeting and is making its first trip to Chapel Hill since Feb. 14, 2010 when it lost 18-7. The schools first met on Feb. 17, 2008 in North Carolina, with the Tar Heels winning 15-9 in the closest game of the series.
SCOUTING THE TAR HEELS: North Carolina is the defending national champions and finished runner-up to Boston College in this year’s ACC Championship Game on April 30 in Charlotte. The Tar Heels are 16-4 on the year and owned a 7-2 record in conference play. UNC is the fourth seed in the NCAA Tournament and did not receive a bye in the first round, but it did defeat Sacred Heart by a 16-5 score last Friday. The Tar Heels then pulled out a 16-12 victory over Richmond in Round 2 on Sunday to secure a spot into the quarterfinals. UNC has played its last nine games and 11 of the last 12 in the state of North Carolina, and 16 of its 20 contests on the year have been in the state. Of their four losses, two have come on the road (4-2 record) and the other in the ACC title game (3-1 neutral site). Marissa White leads the team with 45 goals on the year. Caitlyn Wurzburger and Reilly Casey rank first and second on the team, respectively, in points (71-70) and second and third in goals (37-36). Wurzburger and Casey also share the team lead with 34 assists. Emily Nalls is first on the squad defensively in ground balls (33) and caused turnovers (29), while Olivia Dirks has earned the most draw controls (66). Alecia Nicholas has started all 20 games in net and owns an 8.69 goals-against average and .462 save percentage.
LAST TIME VS. UNC (March 7, 2011): Denver fell 13-3 to No. 3 North Carolina on a chilly Monday evening at Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium. Denver got goals from Kara Secora, Melissa Maier and Becca Steinberg. Kelsey McDowell caused three turnovers for the Pioneers, and goalkeeper Ashley Harman made seven saves in the loss. The Pioneers had scoring opportunities in the opening session but fell behind 1-0 early. North Carolina scored two more times before Secora got the Pioneers on the board with a free-position goal at the 9:07 mark. Denver outshot UNC 11-8 in the first half, but North Carolina scored three of its five first half goals from free position shots, and the Pioneers trailed 5-1 at intermission. Denver tallied two more goals in the second half, but the Tar Heel offense scored eight times in the final 30 minutes.
CONNECTIONS: Denver freshman Megan Klingenberg is from Waxhaw, North Carolina—south of Charlotte … UNC senior defender Julia Dorsey is from the same hometown as Trinity McPherson (Baltimore) and played at McDonogh School with DU senior defender Sam Thacker … North Carolina freshman Caroline Godine also played at the McDonogh School … DU junior Anna Palmisano and UNC junior Caitlyn Wurzburger are from Delray Beach, Florida, and both attended American Heritage school … Denver goalie Emelia Bohi and UNC junior Briana Lanthu are both from Bethesda, Maryland … Tar Heels sophomore Brooklyn Walker-Welch and Denver redshirt-sophomore Raegan Wilson (injured) both attended The Hill Academy in Ontario, Canada … Denver freshman Maggie Gately and UNC sophomore Reilly Casey each attended Bishop Ireton prep school in Alexandria, Virginia.
DOMINANT D: The Pioneers ranked first in the country in scoring defense by allowing just 5.90 goals per game, the lowest since 2016 when Southern California allowed 5.81 goals per game. Loyola is second at 6.67 and James Madison is third at 7.62 goals against per game.
Denver hasn’t allowed double-digit goals in any of its 21 games 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 12.57 (Campbell, 14.11) and have recorded double-digit CTs in 20-of-21 contests, 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 second in the NCAA in draw controls percentage at 62.9 percent, trailing only Loyola at 69.8 percent.
Sam Thacker is sixth in the country and first in the Big East in caused turnovers at 2.38 per game. Bryn McCaughey is 35th in the nation and second in the conference at 1.76 per game. Trinity McPherson ranks third in the Big East and 38th nationally by forcing 1.71 turnovers per outing.
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 13 of the last 14 games (13 of which were in a row) and are outscoring opponents by an average score of 13.2-5.8 in that span since March 9 (186-81 total). DU’s overall margin of victory this season is 6.57, the eighth-highest in the country.
STREAKING: Denver completed the only undefeated regular season in program history (17-0) and is on a 21-game overall 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. The Pioneers are the only unbeaten squad in the NCAA.
DU WLAX HOSTS FIRST TOURNAMENT GAMES AT BARTON: Denver hosted women’s lacrosse national tournament games for the first time in program history last weekend, as the Pioneers welcomed Southern California, Albany and Virginia for games at Peter Barton Stadium (three games, two with DU).
While DU was hosting women’s lacrosse regionals for the first time, the school had previously hosted seven first round games in the men’s lacrosse tournament at Peter Barton Stadium. Denver also served as a neutral-site host at nearby Empower Field at Mile High for the 2015 men’s second round.
UNDEFEATED AT BARTON: Denver finished the year undefeated at home this season, going 9-0 at Peter Barton Stadium this season. This is the seventh time in program history that the Pioneers were perfect on their home turf, as they also accomplished the feat in 2021 (9-0), 2020 (6-0), 2017 (8-0), 2014 (12-0), 2013 (8-0) and 2012 (8-0).
Overall, DU is on a 12-game winning streak on its own turf dating back to April 30, 2022. The Pioneers own a 37-3 record in their last 40 contests at Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium (since start of 2019) and are 51-6 in home games since the start of the 2017 campaign. Denver owns a 132-24 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. then-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).
BEST IN THE WEST(AND MIDWEST): The Pioneers had six players named to IWLCA All-West/Midwest Region Teams, 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.
SENIOR CLASS SUCCESS: Denver has combined for 75 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 Saturday, May 13, 2023).
USA LAX MAGAZINE ALL-AMERICANS: Six Pioneers were recognized last week as USA Lacrosse Magazine All-Americans. 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.
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.
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.
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