CU women's lacrosse preview: Florida
MATCHUP: No. 6 Florida Gators at No. 17 Colorado Buffaloes
GAME TIME: Saturday, Noon, at Kittredge Field in Boulder
BROADCAST: Online - CUBuffs.com
NOTABLE: This is the 2019 opener for both teams. ... Florida leads the series 2-0, with both wins coming last season, including in the NCAA Tournament. ... This is Florida's first trip to Boulder. ... Florida advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals last year (17-4 record). ... The Gators return leading scorer Lindsey Ronbeck and goalkeeper Haley Hicklen.
Coming off the best season in the young program's history and aiming for better this year, the Colorado women's lacrosse team isn't easing into the new campaign.
The Buffaloes (14-6 in 2018) are at No. 17 in the preseason IWLCA Top 25 poll and they'll open the season Saturday against No. 6 Florida, the team that knocked them out of the NCAA Tournament a year ago. That's followed by games against No. 14 Virginia Tech and No. 5 StonyBrook, with No. 18 Stanford looming for the Pac-12 opener in the fifth game of the season.
"I think we are looking forward to it," senior attacker Sophie Castillo said of the tough schedule. "We are all just kinda ready to start playing and get going. We're not really worried about who we are playing."
Entering its sixth season, CU has come to the point of not having to worry too much about the competition, because it has proven capable of stacking up against the nation's best.
After reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 2017, the Buffs returned in 2018 and advanced to the second round for the first time. They also won the inaugural Pac-12 title.
"Since I started building this program, the goal has been to get better every year and every season," sixth-year head coach Ann Elliott Whidden said. "I think we have done that. Last season we faced a lot of challenges on the field and off the field, and had some ups and downs, but I was really proud of our resilience in what we were able to achieve. This year we are coming in strong. We lost some key players offensively and defensively, especially around the draw circle, but we have a lot of people returning with confidence."
CU must replace two-time All-Americans Sarah Brown and Darby Kiernan. Brown, selected to the U.S. National team in the fall, was Pac-12 defensive player of the year last year, while Kiernan left as CU's career and single-season leader in goals, assists, points and draw controls.
Despite those holes to fill, the Buffs are led by All-American Julia Lisella, the 2018 IWLCA goalkeeper of the year, and senior attackers Sophie Castillo, Samantha Nemirov and Miranda Stinson - a trio that combined for 123goals a year ago.
The Buffs are also excited about a roster that includes 12 newcomers and others ready to take on larger roles.
"I think that's a really exciting part for this team in particular is it's not about one person or two people," Whidden said. "It's really about all of them and all the little pieces that they are going to bring that are going to help us be well balanced and hopefully be a really hard team to match up against, because if you take away one person, we've got a lot of other people coming at you."
Despite key losses and a young roster, the overall goal has not changed for the Buffs, who were picked second - behind Stanford - in the Pac-12 coaches' poll.
"I think this year we just want to take it a step further than we've been doing the past few years," Castillo said. "We've made it to the tournament, but I think getting past where we have been past and hopefully winning a Pac-12 championship. Just being the best team we can be overall."
Colorado Buffaloes women's lacrosse
Head coach: Ann Elliott Whidden, 6th season (65-30)
2018: 14-6, 9-1 Pac-12 (1st); lost to Florida, 13-9, in second round of NCAA Tournament
Preseason rankings: No. 17 IWLCA, No. 18 Cascade/Inside Lacrosse, No. 18 Nike/U.S. Lacrosse Magazine
Starters: 7 returning, 5 lost
Statistical leaders (2018 stats) — Points: Miranda Stinson, 77; Samantha Nemirov, 48; Sophie Castillo, 41. Goals: Stinson, 58; Nemirov, 39; Sadie Grozier, 26. Assists: Stinson, 19; Castillo, 15; Nemirov, 9. Goalie: Julia Lisella (13-4 record, 9.34 goals against average, 5.03 save percentage.
Key players to watch: MF Olivia Aschman, Sr.; MF Devon Bayer, So.; A Sophie Castillo, Sr.; MF Sadie Grozier, So.; GK Julia Lisella, Jr.; MF Jen Mistretta, Jr.; A Samantha Nemirov, Sr.; MF Blair Sisk, Sr.; A Miranda Stinson, Sr.