Women's lacrosse: Hard work, focus leads to monster season for CU Buffs' Madeline Pisani

Apr. 30—Madeline Pisani was asked to fill a number of various roles during her first three seasons with the Colorado women's lacrosse team. A wealth of playing time wasn't included in any of those roles.

This year, Pisani was asked to add more scoring punch. And she has delivered, big time.

After playing sparingly through her first three seasons with only a few scattered scoring numbers to her credit, Pisani has emerged as one of the most dangerous scorers in the Pac-12 Conference. It's a memorable season Pisani hopes to continue as long as possible as the Buffaloes, teetering on the bubble of NCAA Tournament consideration, begin play in the Pac-12 tournament with a first-round date against UC Davis on Wednesday night.

Pisani collected just eight goals and one assist while playing in only 13 games over the past two seasons. It has been a much different story this season, as Pisani takes a conference-best 56 goals into CU's final appearance in the Pac-12 tournament. Pisani scored a career-high seven goals in CU's win against Oregon in the regular season finale on Friday.

Pisani is the only CU player who has scored in every game, and she enters the postseason with an average of 3.5 goals per game that currently stands as the top season mark in program history.

"I think she's the type of player that's been focused, to know her goals and be able to accomplish them," CU head coach Ann Elliott Whidden said. "I think the position she was in last year was hard, one where you get limited time and if things don't go well, you get less time. It takes a toll on you mentally.

"I think for her, she's learned from every role she's been in. She's been committed to working hard on her own. And this year she got an opportunity to play, and I don't think she's just never looked back. She's been confident in what she's been doing. She prepares extremely well and works extra to make sure she's prepared. All the credit goes to her in what she's done and how she's stayed focused."

The Buffs enter the tournament as the third seed, with Wednesday's winner slated to face second-seeded USC in the semifinals on Thursday night.

CU enters the tournament having played to different extremes in recent weeks. The Buffs have scored a season-high 20 goals in three of the past four games, yet the one outlier was a 15-6 loss at USC on April 21, a defeat that saw CU post a season-low scoring total while getting dominated in a game that would've given the Buffs the tournament's second seed and a first-round bye.

Nationally, the Buffs enter the tournament at No. 26 in the RPI, which puts them squarely on the bubble for the 29-team NCAA Tournament. Winning the final Pac-12 tournament would secure an NCAA berth, but Elliott Whidden is hopeful a win on Wednesday, plus a victory in a rematch against USC, might turn the bubble odds in CU's favor.

"I think we're in a position where we at least have to get to the championship game, and we give ourselves a shot from there," Elliott Whidden said. "I think it's still in someone else's hands. A few times in my career here we've been in that position and it hasn't gone our way. I don't think we get a lot of the benefit of the doubt when things are close. I think our mindset has to be one game at a time, but knowing that we're probably going to have to win the whole thing. But if we can get those first two hopefully we're in the conversation. Which is better than we've been the last few years."

UC Davis vs. No. 24 CU Buffs women's lacrosse

OPENING DRAW: Pac-12 tournament first round, Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. MT, LA Coliseum, Los Angeles.

TV — Pac-12 Network.

RECORDS: UC Davis 9-7, 2-5 Pac-12 Conference; Colorado 11-5, 5-2.

KEY PLAYERS: UC Davis — A Grace Gebhardt, Jr. (46 goals, 13 assists); M Ella Brislin, Jr. (31 goals, six assists); M Rhea Cosand, So. (25 goals, six assists); M Natalie Markman, Jr. (21 goals, nine assists); A Cami Johnson, Fr. (17 goals, 11 assists); GK Ashley Laing, R-Sr. (.419 save percentage; 14.37 goals-against average). Colorado — A Madeline Pisani, Sr. (56 goals, 10 assists); M Ashley Stokes, Sr. (34 goals, 24 assists); A Eve Hritzuk, Gr. (33 goals, eight assists); M Sydney Zimmerman, Sr. (16 goals, nine assists); A Rachel Kennedy, So. (15 goals, nine assists); M Maddie Shoup, So. (19 goals, three assists); GK Danielle Heintz, Sr (.352 save percentage; 10.82 goals-against average).

NOTES: CU posted a 17-7 win at UC Davis on April 6 behind six goals apiece from Pisani and Stokes. ... UC Davis has lost four of its past five games but still managed to land the sixth and final spot in the Pac-12 tournament. Although the Pac-12 played as an eight-team league this season, it retained the six-team format for the tournament, with California and San Diego State falling short of the tournament field. ... Stokes ranks fourth in the Pac-12 in assists. ... The Buffs are 7-0 all-time against UC Davis. ... CU is trying to advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2019.