DU Women’s Lacrosse Prepares to Face Reigning National Champions
It’s baked right into the DNA of the University of Denver women’s lacrosse team.
Alongside a focus on draw controls, scrappy ground ball play and suffocating defense is the ability to take almost anything personally. This team has a Rocky Mountain-sized chip on its shoulder and its sights set on a national championship.
So, when the Pioneers—currently the only undefeated team remaining in the Division I ranks—received the No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament bracket, they dutifully dispatched their opponents in the first two rounds, beating the University of Southern California and defeating the University at Albany. But they’ve had their eyes set on the University of North Carolina, the reigning national champions, and the Pioneers are more than happy to play the underdog role even with an undefeated record. First draw is set for 3 p.m. MDT on Thursday at Dorrance Field in Chapel Hill.
“We take everything personally,” DU coach Liza Kelly says. “We’ve got to be chippy all the time. We find a way, whether we’re the top dogs or the underdogs, to get angry and get after somebody.”
It’s only the second time the Pioneers have made such a deep run in the NCAA tournament. In 2019, DU traveled to Ann Arbor and upset Michigan in the second round to make the program’s first Elite Eight appearance.
After a historic season beating some of the best teams the East Coast has to offer, the Pioneers have been tested during road games far from home. In North Carolina, they’ll face an opponent who has lost only to ranked foes and hasn’t left their home state to play a match since April 1. The Tar Heels have put up big goal numbers, out-scoring opponents 292-172, and feature a defense that makes few mistakes, leading DI with a clearing percentage of .939.
UNC runs a “traditional” man defense, as Kelly puts it, and the coach said she’s excited to see her team stick to what brought them to this point.
“I think we just have to be us,” the coach says. “We can’t deviate from the plan of what’s gotten us here. We’ve played really stifling defense and had a really patient attack. We’ve gotten draw controls, we’ve made saves, we just need to keep doing that.”
Denver’s success has come from all over the roster during the postseason. During the opening round win over USC, Lauren Black and Julia Gilbert each netted three goals, while Ryan Dineen scored twice and notched two assists.
In the grind-it-out victory over Albany, Gilbert turned in her 12th hat trick of the season and Black chipped in two more markers. Kayla DeRose, Sloane Kipp and Mollie Estepp each added one goal. Trinity McPherson, meanwhile, was named Co-Defensive Player of the Week by the Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association as a key piece of the unit that has held all 21 opponents to single-digit goal totals.
With their confidence, chippy nature and defensive acumen, the Pioneers are hoping to reach another milestone—a first-time appearance in the Final Four. The winner of Thursday’s contest will take on either No. 1 Northwestern or No. 8 Loyola University Maryland.
“We’re excited to play,” Kelly says. “We know we have no control of who is in front of us and that’s been our attitude—anyone, anywhere.”
The game begins Thursday in Chapel Hill at 3 p.m. MDT and will be broadcast on ESPNU and online with ESPN+. Live stats are available on the Athletics website.