PREVIEW: No. 5 Denver Set for Final Four vs. No. 1 Northwestern
CARY, N.C. – The No. 5 seed Denver Pioneers women’s lacrosse team takes on the No. 1 Northwestern Wildcats in the NCAA National Semifinals on Friday afternoon at WakeMed Soccer Park to begin Championship Weekend.
Game time is at 1 p.m. MT, and the contest will be nationally televised on ESPNU and will be available through ESPN apps.
Denver is in the Final Four for the first time in program history and returns to North Carolina for the second time in 10 days after winning 5-4 at the No. 4 North Carolina Tar Heels in the NCAA Quarterfinals on Thursday, May 18. Trailing 4-1 in the second quarter, the Pioneers tallied the game’s next four goals and held the Tar Heels scoreless in the second half in their second-ever appearance in the Elite Eight.
DU only allowed three total shots against in the final 30 minutes and caused 15 turnovers—tied for the most in an NCAA Tournament contest for the program. The Pioneers received two goals from both graduate student Kayla DeRose and senior Julia Gilbert during their game-ending 4-0 run, and freshman Ryan Dineen also had a multi-point performance with a tally and a helper.
Northwestern is the top seed and advanced to its fourth consecutive Final Four with a 16-6 win in the Elite Eight last Thursday versus No. 9 Loyola. Izzy Scane had 10 points on seven goals and three assists as the Wildcats never trailed in the contest, leading 4-1 after the first quarter, 10-3 at halftime and 14-3 after three frames.
This will be the sixth all-time meeting between DU and NU and the second in the national tournament. The Wildcats have won each of the previous five games in the series that dates back to 2004 and won 19-4 in the teams’ last outing against one another in the second round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament in Evanston, Illinois. That Sweet 16 outing was the first between the programs since January 2009.
Friday’s semifinal is a matchup of top-tier teams, as Denver is first in the NCAA in goals against per game while Northwestern possesses the highest-scoring offense in the country.
The winner of Denver-Northwestern will play the winner of the other semifinal between No. 2 Syracuse and No. 3 Boston College in the National Championship Game on Sunday at 10 a.m. MT (TV: ESPN).
LAST TIME OUT: The Pioneers advanced to the Final Four for the first time in program history with a 5-4 win at No. 4 North Carolina on Thursday in Chapel Hill. DU scored the game’s final four goals after trailing 4-1 in the second period. Kayla DeRose and Julia Gilbert both tallied twice, with DeRose scoring the game-winner with 6:31 left to play.
Goalkeeper Emelia Bohi made five saves and Denver won the ground-ball battle 15-5. UNC outshot DU 15-14, but 15 of the Tar Heels’ 19 turnovers were caused from Pioneers. Neither team took a card in a game and Denver only allowed three total shots against in the second half.
- The Pioneers improved to 10-6 all-time in the national tournament and are now 7-3 in the last 10 games.
- DU is in the midst of its first 20-plus win season in program history.
- Denver’s 22 games played this season are the most in a single campaign in program history (Previous: 21 in 2013, 2014 & 2022).
- The Pioneers won their first game vs. North Carolina in program history and is now 1-4 all-time against the Tar Heels.
- The nine combined goals in the contest vs. UNC were the fewest in an NCAA Tournament game for the Pioneers.
- Julia Gilbert has scored in all 22 games this year and has 58 goals on the season, tied for the sixth-most in a single campaign in DU history. Gilbert also has 139 goals in her career, tied with Julia Feiss (2016-2019) for the eighth-most in the school record books.
- Gracie DeRose’s five ground balls vs. North Carolina were a career high
- Senior Sam Thacker has started 68-of-69 career games, with the only contest she didn’t start was 2021 Senior Day on April 25, 2021 vs. Villanova.
- Trinity McPherson recorded two ground balls vs. UNC to push her season total to 61, tied for the third-most in a single campaign at Denver. Sam Thacker had three ground balls and took over sole possession of sixth-place in program history with 153 in her career.
- Kayla DeRose scored her second game-winning goal of the season (March 22 at Jacksonville) and third of her career.
KELLY WINS 300TH: Denver head coach Liza Kelly’s 300th career win was one to remember as she reached the milestone with the victory in the NCAA Quarterfinals at North Carolina. Kelly is the 13th Division-I coach to win 300 games and do so in just 409 games (.733) . She is first coach to reach 300 since Tracy Coyne also accomplished the feat on Feb. 27, 2022 while guiding St. Francis (PA) in a win at Akron.
Kelly owns a 236-76 record at Denver, leading the sidelines for the Pioneers since 2007. She spent her first five years as the head coach of Boston University from 2002-2006 (64-33, .660) after being an assistant coach at Towson University from 1999-2001 while also being a player on the U.S. National Team at the same time. Kelly was a three-time All-American midfielder at Delaware and graduated in 1998.
ROAD WARRIORS: Denver has 13 wins away from home this season, the most by any NCAA program this year. DU has made five trips to the U.S. East Coast during the 2023 campaign and played 10 previous games in the Eastern Time Zone.
North Carolina is the Pioneers eighth state they have visited outside of Colorado this the year, and the third one they have traveled to multiple times in addition to Connecticut and Ohio. DU has also played games in Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
DU has three wins against top-five opponents this year, with each coming away from Barton Stadium. The Pioneers’ victory at then-No. 5 Maryland on March 5 was just the sixth home loss by the Terrapins in coach Cathy Reese’s tenure. DU also won a neutral-site contest vs. then-No. 4 Boston College on April 19 in Jacksonville, Florida, and its quarterfinal match at No. 4 North Carolina on May 18.
DeROSE NAMED NATIONAL PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Denver earned its fourth straight IWLCA National Defensive Player of the Week honor on Tuesday as graduate student Gracie DeRose picked up the accolade for the first time in her career. The defender recorded a career-high five ground balls and added two caused turnovers and one draw control in DU’s victory at No. 4 North Carolina.
This is the sixth IWLCA weekly award of the season and the 11th in program history. Trinity McPherson (May 16), Emelia Bohi (May 9) and Sam Thacker (May 2) have also earned Defensive Player of the Week honors this month, while Julia Gilbert was named Co-Offensive Player of the Week on March 7 and Bryn McCaughey was recognized with defensive accolades on March 21.
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 61 ground balls this season, tied for the third-most in a campaign and the most by a DU player since Kate Henrich’s 65 in 2013. She is five loose balls away from tying the record of 66 held by Tanya Fuchs (2006).
The graduate student also has 36 caused turnovers—tied for the 10th-most in a season—and is also 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.
Thacker has a team-high 53 caused turnovers and has picked up 55 ground balls and 41 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 53, junior Bryn McCaughey is second with 38 and graduate student Trinity McPherson is third with 37.
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 set the school record for the most free-position goals in a single season on Thursday, May 18 by scoring her 18th marker from the eight-meter at 8:12 of the fourth quarter to tie the game at 4-4 vs. UNC. Gilbert surpassed the previous mark of 17 that has held by Ali Flury in 2010.
Ranking 29th overall in the country in free-position tallies per game from the eight-meter (0.82), Gilbert’s .92 free-position percentage (18-for-26) is the fifth-best in the nation.
Sophomore Lauren Black has 15 free-position goals on the year, tied with Julia Feiss for fourth on the team’s single-season list. Freshman Ryan Dineen is tied for ninth in the program’s record book 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 on the team and in the Big East at 55.6 percent (39th in NCAA) .
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, is in Championship Weekend for the first time in program history. This is the first year that DU earned a national seed and hosted the first two rounds of the tournament where it defeated USC and UAlbany.
Denver owns a 10-6 all-time record in the national tournament and is 7-3 in its last 10 NCAA contests. DU 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. NORTHWESTERN: DU is 0-5 all-time against Northwestern in a series that dates back to 2004. The teams have met once before in the national tournament, with it coming in their last meeting on May 16, 2021. NU won the second-round matchup 19-4 at home. Three of the teams five games have come in Evanston, Ill. The teams met in San Diego, California, in a neutral-site contest on Jan. 23, 2009 and played in Denver on Feb. 27, 2005.
SCOUTING THE WILDCATS: Northwestern is 19-1 on the season and have won 19 consecutive games. The team’s only loss came in the season opener at No. 5 Syracuse, falling 16-15 in a game that was tied 14-14 with 4:21 remaining in the game. NU went 6-0 in Big Ten Conference play during the regular season before winning 18-11 in the conference semifinals vs. Michigan and 14-9 vs. Maryland in the Big Ten Championship Game. The Wildcats went 11-1 against ranked opponents this year, including defeating then-No. 1 North Carolina 13-9 on March 19 at home. Northwestern won 8-7 over Michigan in the NCAA Second Round on May 14 before winning 16-6 last Thursday in the NCAA Quarterfinals vs. Loyola Maryland. NU has the top scoring offense in the country, averaging 17.0 goals per game and wins by an average of 7.85 tallies—which is also first in the country.
Northwestern has three players with 50-plus goals on the season, led by Izzy Scane’s 89 goals and 120 points. Scane leads the NCAA with 4.94 goals per game and 6.67 points per game, while ranking second on the squad with 31 assists. Erin Coykendall is second on the team in scoring with 98 points, ranking first with 45 assists and third with 53 goals. Hailey Rhatigan is second in goals with 55 and is third in points with 66. Madison Taylor ranks fourth on the team in tallies with 47 on the year. NU is led defensively by Samantha White and Kendall Halpren, as White is first with 27 caused turnovers and second with 32 ground balls while Halpren is first with 33 ground balls and second with 25 caused turnovers. Goalkeeper Molly Laliberty has started all 20 games and has every decision in NU’s 19-1 record. She sports an 8.91 goals-against average and .471 save percentage.
LAST TIME VS. NU (May 16, 2021): DU lost 19-4 in its NCAA Second Round game vs. No. 2 seed Northwestern at Lanny and Sharon Martin Stadium. Defender Molly Little netted her first career hat trick by scoring three times in the first half, and goalkeeper Amelia Cole set Denver’s single-game NCAA Tournament saves record by stopping 15 shots. On the defensive side of the ball, Denver had four players with a pair of caused turnovers in Cole, Little, Kailee Lammers, and Ellie Curry. Lammers also added five ground balls while Cole picked up four. Kayla DeRose also scored in the first half before Northwestern tallied all 10 markers in the second half.
CONNECTIONS: Denver has two players from Illinois and the Chicago area, as senior attacker Sydney Collignon is from Hinsdale (Hinsdale Central HS) and senior defender Lauryn Repp is from Lake Bluff (Loyola Academy) … Northwestern freshman Lucy Munro is from Highlands Ranch, Colorado, and attended ThunderRidge High School … Denver’s Lauren Black (New Westminster) and NU’s Claire Snyder (Surrey) and Daniella Stroup (Port Coquitlam) are all from British Columbia, Canada … Denver graduate student Trinity McPherson and Northwestern sophomore Samantha White are both from Baltimore, Maryland … DU sophomore goalkeeper Skyler Constantino and NU freshman goalie Francesca Argentieri are both from Syracuse, New York … Pioneers junior Anna Palmisano and the Wildcats freshman Carli Fleisher attended American Heritage High School in Florida … DU freshman Lindsey Wilmot and NU senior Dylan Amonte both attended Thayer Academy in Massachusetts.
VERSUS NO. 1: The Pioneers will be playing the No. 1 ranked team for the first time since hosting then-No. 1 Boston College at Peter Barton Stadium on March 9, 2021. DU lost 9-5 in a game that was called official after three quarters due to single-digit temperatures. Denver is 0-4 all-time against No. 1 squads.
5 SEEDS IN THE FINAL FOUR: Denver is the first non-top-four team to make it to Championship Weekend since unseeded Boston College and Navy both made it in 2017. Northwestern was the last No. 5 seed to reach the Final Four in 2014. Unseeded Princeton was the last non-top-five team to win the national championship by defeating No. 3 Virginia 8-7 in overtime in 2003.
SWEET CAROLINA: Denver freshman Megan Klingenberg returns to her home state as she is from Waxhaw, North Carolina, which is just south of Charlotte.
DOMINANT D: The Pioneers rank first in the country in scoring defense by allowing just 5.82 goals per game, the lowest since 2016 when Southern California allowed 5.81 goals per game. Loyola is second at 7.09 and James Madison is third at 7.86 goals against per game.
Denver hasn’t allowed double-digit goals in any of its 22 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 12.73 (Campbell, 14.11) and have recorded double-digit CTs in 21-of-22 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 third in the NCAA in draw controls percentage at 62.2 percent, trailing only Loyola (69.8%) and Notre Dame (62.3%).
Sam Thacker is sixth in the country and first in the Big East in caused turnovers at 2.41 per game. Bryn McCaughey is 35th in the nation and second in the conference at 1.73 per game. Trinity McPherson ranks fourth in the Big East and 41st nationally by forcing 1.68 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 15 games (13 of which were in a row) and are outscoring opponents by an average score of 12.7-5.7 in that span since March 9 (191-85 total). DU’s overall margin of victory this season is 6.32, the eighth-highest in the country (Northwestern, 1st, 7.85).
STREAKING: Denver completed the only undefeated regular season in program history (17-0) and is on a 22-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 on May 12-14, 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 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 77 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 (82) and Boston College (81) in senior class wins.
LACROSSE PUBLICATION ALL-AMERICANS: Six Pioneers have been recognized as All-Americans from USA Lacrosse Magazine and Inside Lacrosse. Sam Thacker was named to the First Team on each list, while Emelia Bohi, Ellie Curry, Julia Gilbert, Bryn McCaughey and Trinity McPherson also earned honors by both publications.
USA Lacrosse Magazine All-Americans
D Sam Thacker – First Team
A Julia Gilbert – Second Team
D Trinity McPherson – Second Team
GK Emelia Bohi – Honorable Mention
M Ellie Curry – Honorable Mention
D Bryn McCaughey – Honorable Mention
Inside Lacrosse All-Americans
D Sam Thacker – First Team
GK Emelia Bohi – Third Team
M Ellie Curry – Third Team
D Trinity McPherson – Third Team
A Julia Gilbert – Honorable Mention
D Bryn McCaughey – Honorable Mention
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.
DENVER ATHLETICS SUCCESS
- Denver Athletics has claimed the top finish in the Directors’ Cup standings amongst schools without football in 14 of the last 15 seasons.
- The Pioneers have claimed 34 National Championships in their history (skiing 24, hockey 9, men’s lacrosse 1).
- This weekend’s Women’s Lacrosse Championship Weekend berth is one of the athletic department’s 31 NCAA DI National Semifinal appearances (hockey 18, women’s gymnastics 6, men’s lacrosse 5, men’s soccer 1, women’s lacrosse 1).
- Since the entire department turned Division I in 1999, Denver has made 191 NCAA Tournament appearances (nearly 8 per year average) and 14 Final Four appearances (6 hockey, 5 men’s lacrosse, 1 men’s soccer, 1 women’s gymnastics, 1 women’s lacrosse).
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