DENVER – The University of Denver women’s lacrosse coaching staff led by Liza Kelly has been named the IWLCA Division-I West/Midwest Region Coaching Staff of the Year, the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association announced on Wednesday.
The IWLCA Coaching Staff of the Year Award honors one national and multiple regional Coaching Staffs of the Year from each NCAA Division and a National Coaching Staff of the Year from the NAIA. Ahead of the 2023 season, the IWLCA Board of Directors approved changing the name of this award to recognize the entire coaching staff, rather than individual coaches.
Having just completed her 17th season as the head coach of the program, this is Kelly’s third time earning a regional coaching award and the second in as many seasons after also being recognized in 2022 as the West/Midwest Coach of the Year. Kelly also won the award in 2013.
Kelly led Denver’s defense and was joined on the sideline in 2023 by fourth-year associate head coach and offensive coordinator Brice Queener and fifth-year assistant coach Brittany Read. DU women’s lacrosse alum Megan Zeman just finished her sixth year back with the program and spent her second as the director of lacrosse operations.
Denver put together a historic campaign with a 22-1 overall record and the team’s first-ever berth into NCAA Championship Weekend. DU’s 22 wins led the country while its one loss tied for the fewest among all Division-I programs. The Pioneers’ only defeat of the year came to eventual national champion Northwestern in the NCAA semifinals.
DU completed the first undefeated regular season in program history (17-0) and won each of their first 22 games, marking the longest winning streak in team history.
Denver’s defense ranked first in the country for the first time in the program annals by allowing just 6.22 goals per game—the fewest by any squad since Southern California in 2016 (5.81). DU ranked second in the nation with 12.65 caused turnovers per game, with only Campbell University having a better mark at 14.11. The team was also fifth in draw control percentage (.616) and seventh in saves percentage (.505).
The Pioneers scored double-digit goals in 14 straight games from March 13 to May 12, and the team ranked 10th in the country in scoring margin—winning by an average of 5.70 goals per contest. DU had nine different players with 10 or more goals during the year and had five with 20-plus markers, led by senior Julia Gilbert with 59 tallies.
Denver claimed its third-straight Big East Conference Tournament championship and fourth consecutive Big East regular-season title after going 6-0 in league play. DU has now won 27 straight Big East regular-season games dating back to April 28, 2018.
No team in the country spent more time away from home during the season than the Pioneers. DU won 13 games away from Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium, going 10-0 in true road games and 3-1 in neutral-site contests. DU went undefeated at home (9-0) for the seventh time in school history.
The Pioneers went 9-1 against ranked opponents this year and earned three wins against top-five teams, all of which came away from Denver. DU beat then-No. 5 Maryland on March 5 in what was just the sixth home loss by the Terrapins in coach Cathy Reese’s tenure. The Pios also won a neutral-site contest versus then-No. 4 Boston College on April 19 in Jacksonville, Florida, and their quarterfinal outing at No. 4 North Carolina on May 18. This was the first time in program history that Denver won multiple games against top-five squads.
Kelly won her 300th career game in the quarterfinal victory at North Carolina, becoming the 13th Division-I coach to reach the milestone and did so in just 409 games (.733). Kelly owns a 236-77 record at Denver, having led the sidelines for the Pioneers since 2007.
Three Pioneers were named IWLCA All-Americans, with senior defender Sam Thacker repeating on the First Team, while graduate student defender Trinity McPherson was named to the Second Team and junior draw specialist Abby Jenkins was chosen to the Third Team. DU’s three All-Americans are the most the program has ever had in a single season.
Thacker was chosen as the IWLCA National Division-I Defender of the Year and was also a unanimous selection for the second straight season as the Big East Conference Defensive Player of the Year. Julia Gilbert was picked as the Big East Co-Attacker of the Year. Overall, DU had nine players selected to All-Big East Teams and six were chosen to IWLCA West/Midwest Region Teams.
Northwestern was named the Division-I National Coaching Staff of the Year, while Boston College (Northeast), James Madison (South) and Loyola (Mid-Atlantic) were selection as regional winners. Northwestern, who is also in the West/Midwest Region, was the only IWLCA national winner to also not be named a regional winner.
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