DENVER – Defender Sam Thacker of the University of Denver women’s lacrosse team will return for a fifth season of eligibility with the Pioneers in 2024.
“I’m excited to welcome Sam back to our team as we get set to begin fall practices in the coming days,” said Denver head coach Liza Kelly. “Sam is a heart-and-soul-type of player and has proven to be one of the best defenders in the nation and in program history. Sam’s return is a major addition to our team and in our goal of bringing a national championship to Denver.”
Thacker was the first DU player to be named the National Defender of the Year by the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association and was named a First Team All-American each of the past seasons (2022, 2023)—the first Pioneer to repeat as a first-team member. She was also finalist for the Honda Sports Award for lacrosse.
“As summer came to a close, it became clear to me that I wasn’t ready to be done playing lacrosse,” said Thacker. “There is no place I would rather play than as a Pioneer at Peter Barton Stadium. We have unfinished business at DU, and I’m thrilled to be re-joining my teammates in our pursuit of winning a national championship.”
Serving as a team captain, Thacker led Denver with 53 caused turnovers during the 2023 campaign while ranking second on the team with 59 ground balls and third with 45 draw controls. Her 53 forced turnovers were the third-most in a single season in school history while her 59 ground balls were the seventh-most.
The Lutherville, Maryland, native was one of six players in the country with at least 40 caused turnovers, 40 ground balls and 30 draw controls, and she was one of two with 50-plus caused turnovers and ground balls and 40 or more draw along with Rutgers’ Meghan Ball (60 CT, 51 GB, 101 DC). Nationally, Thacker’s 53 caused turnovers ranked third while her 2.3 caused turnovers per game was seventh-best.
A unanimous selection for the second straight season as the Big East Defensive Player of the Year and also a repeat member of the All-Big East First Team, Thacker was selected to both the Big East Championship All-Tournament Team and the NCAA Championship All-Tournament Team during postseason play. She was named the Big East’s Defensive Player of the Week on April 10 and was chosen as the IWLCA Defensive Player of the Week on May 2—her third such national award of her career.
The defender recorded at least one caused turnover in 20-of-23 games last season and picked up at least one ground ball in 21 of those contests. She matched a career high with six caused turnovers on April 29 at Marquette, which was also tied for the seventh-most in an outing in program history and helped the Pioneers secure their fourth straight regular season Big East Championship.
Thacker combined for 13 ground balls, 12 draw controls and seven caused turnovers in four NCAA Tournament games, helping guide the Pioneers to their first appearance in the Final Four and Championship Weekend. Against North Carolina in the Elite Eight on May 18, Thacker registered three ground balls, three caused turnovers and one draw control, including forcing a key turnover during a UNC free-position attempt in the closing minutes to seal DU’s first win in the quarterfinal round.
Having started 69-of-70 career games at Denver, Thacker ranks second all-time in program history with 164 caused turnovers, trailing only Kate Henrich’s 170 (2010-2013). She is tied for fifth in the school annals in career ground balls (157) and is eighth in draw controls (143).
Thacker led all players in the country during her junior season in 2022 in total caused turnovers (64) and caused turnovers per game (3.05). It was the second-most forced turnovers in a single year for a Pioneer behind Henrich’s 70 in 2013.
A nominee for both the 2022 and 2023 Tewaaraton Award, Thacker was named both a USA Lacrosse Magazine and Inside Lacrosse All-American while assisting the Pioneers to their best season in program history. DU posted an undefeated regular season and went 22-1 during year, recording the most wins and tied for the fewest losses among any D-I program.
Thacker gained an extra year of eligibility from the NCAA due to the disruption of seasons from the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Since joining the Denver roster for the 2020 campaign, Thacker has helped the Pioneers reach at least the NCAA Sweet 16 in each of the three full seasons and won both the Big East Conference regular-season and tournament championships three consecutive years (2021, 2022, 2023). DU owns a 63-7 overall record and a 21-0 mark in conference games in that time (no postseason play in 2020 due to COVID-19 Pandemic).
DU finished No. 4 in the national rankings in 2023 following its first appearance in the national semifinals with a 22-1 record, leading the country in wins and tying for the fewest losses.
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