Women's lacrosse: CU Buffs open 2024 campaign against Louisville

Feb. 10—In the perspective of one decade of history for the Colorado women's lacrosse team, it has been an eternity since the Buffaloes last reached the NCAA Tournament.

The quest to end that drought begins Sunday.

CU opens the 2024 campaign — its last as part of the Pac-12 Conference — on Sunday at Kittredge Field against Louisville. While it technically is the 11th season in program history, Sunday's match will mark the start of CU's 10th full season, as the 2020 campaign was canceled after five games due to the start of the COVID pandemic.

"I think we have some people to replace, but at the same time I think we have a lot of veterans on attack, some with experience in the games and some who have been in our program for a while. I think we're feeling good about what we can do offensively," said Ann Elliott Whidden, who sports a 109-61 mark as the only head coach in program history.

"It's just finding consistency in our play and our decision-making. I think defensively we're young. We were young last year and we're young again this year. But we're excited about what we have down there and it's a competitive group."

The Buffs first reached the NCAA Tournament in the program's fourth year of existence in 2017, beginning a run of three consecutive tourney appearances while advancing to the second round in 2018 and 2019. Although there was no tournament in 2020, the Buffs haven't been back since.

It's not because the program has fallen off the table. Instead, the Buffs have been on the wrong end of a few near-misses in recent seasons.

CU played for automatic NCAA Tournament berths in the Pac-12 finals in 2021 and again last season, only to fall short. In 2022, the Buffs went into the Pac-12 tournament on the NCAA bubble only to get upset in the first round by an Oregon team CU had defeated by nine goals two weeks earlier.

Last year, a slow start to the season that included a one-goal loss at Vanderbilt and a 12-5 loss against a Louisville team that eventually finished 5-12 set the Buffs behind the curve, RPI-wise, out of the gate. Despite losing the team's top two scorers in Charlie Rudy and Sam McGee, the Buffs are confident this year's squad can get turn those close calls the other way.

CU returns its third and fourth-leading scorers in senior Ashley Stokes, who posted 32 goals and a team-leading 28 assists, and Morgan Pence (33 goals, 21 assists). The Buffs lost lead goalkeeper Grace Donnelly, but senior Danielle Heintz is ready to take over after appearing in nine games with four starts last year. The Buffs also are expecting contributions from a strong freshman class led by midfielder Emily Dodd.

"I think for us, the real challenge is just finding consistency," Elliott Whidden said. "That's what we've lacked the last three years where we haven't made it to the NCAA Tournament. We've had some great moments, but we just haven't been as consistent as we need to be."

Louisville at CU Buffs women's lacrosse

OPENING DRAW: Sunday, noon, Kittredge Field.

RECORDS (2023): Louisville 5-12, 2-8 ACC; Colorado 11-8, 7-3 Pac-12 Conference.

KEY PLAYERS (2023 stats): Louisville — M Nicole Perroni, Gr. (37 goals, eight assists); A Kokoro Nakazawa, Sr. (22 goals, 12 assists); M Negai Nakazawa, So. (16 goals, five assists); A Kylea Dobson, Sr. (16 goals, four assists); A Allegra Catalano, Gr. (12 goals, two assists); A Izzy Szejk, Jr. (12 goals); GK Sara Addeche, Sr. (.445 save percentage, 13.36 goals-against average). Colorado — M Ashely Stokes, Sr. (32 goals, 28 assists); A Morgan Pence, Sr. (33 goals, 21 assists); M Jess Peluso, So. (eight goals, three assists); M Lily Assini, So. (seven goals, four assists); M Sydney Zimmerman, Sr. (seven goals, three assists); GK Danielle Heintz, Sr. (.406 save percentage; 11.22 goals-against average).

NOTES: CU is 7-3 all-time in home openers. ... The Buffs were picked third in the Pac-12 preseason coaches' poll. ... Louisville played its season-opener on Friday, dropping a 16-8 decision at Denver. Kokoro Nakazawa scored three goals for the Cardinals. ... The Cardinals return seven of their top eight scorers from last season. ... Perroni scored two goals for Louisville in the Cardinals' 12-5 home win against the Buffs last year. ... The Buffs return just two of their top six scorers from 2023 in Stokes and Pence. ... CU plays five of its next six games on the road, beginning on Friday at Penn State.