Pac-12 Conference women's lacrosse tournament

All games at Prentup Field and will air live on Pac-12 Network

First round: No. 5 Cal (6-11) vs. No. 4 Oregon (8-8), Thursday, 1 p.m.; No. 6 Arizona State (6-11) vs. No. 3 USC (9-7), Thursday, 4 p.m.

Semifinals: Cal/Oregon winner vs. No. 1 Colorado (12-4), Friday, 1 p.m.; ASU/USC winner vs. No. 2 Stanford (13-4), Friday, 4 p.m.

Championship: Sunday, noon.

The Pac-12 Conference adding women's lacrosse to its official ledger of sponsored competitions will be a good thing for the sport.

And a big reason why it already has gotten off the ground impressively during the league's first season is due largely to a trio of coaches who share similar roots from a more traditional women's lacrosse power in the Midwest.

On Thursday the inaugural Pac-12 Conference women's lacrosse tournament will hold its opening draw with the University of Colorado serving as the host school at Prentup Field. CU coach Ann Elliott has her club positioned as the tournament favorites, earning a first-round bye and the top overall seed as the league's regular season champion.

Elliott arrived in Boulder in 2013 to start the Buffaloes' newest athletics program, with the Buffs first taking the field in 2014. One of Elliott's former teammates at Northwestern, Lindsey Munday, did the same one year earlier at USC. And since then another one of Elliott's former Northwestern teammates, Katrina Dowd, has taken over at Oregon.


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That's half of the league's six head coaches who played prominent roles during a Northwestern run in which the program won seven national titles, including five in a row, in eight seasons between 2005 and 2012.

Munday already was at Northwestern when Elliott arrived as a freshman in 2004, and the duo helped the Wildcats win their first two titles in 2005 and 2006. Munday remained at Northwestern as an assistant coach beginning in 2007, and by then Dowd had begun a playing career that saw her become the NCAA Tournament's all-time leading goal-scorer with 45.

Elliott and Munday were part of the Northwestern staff when Dowd completed her playing career.

"It's exciting to have former teammates and former coaches too that you've worked with out here coaching and building great programs and doing great things," said Elliott, whose club will play either Cal or Oregon in the first semifinal Friday at 1 p.m. "I think we all have similar mentalities for our teams and for this conference and what we believe we're capable of doing. I think that's exciting and the future of our conference is really bright."

The Pac-12 was able to start a women's lacrosse league when Arizona State began varsity play this season, giving the league the six-team minimum required to sponsor an NCAA conference. New ventures are inherently dicey (ASU went just 1-9 in the Pac-12 with a minus-103 goal differential) but the league gained immediate credibility given that three of the teams nabbed from the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation — CU, Stanford, and USC — were the top squads in the MPSF last year. The MPSF had suffered a significant loss a year earlier when the University of Denver left the league, and the Pac-12 also brought on board established programs at Cal and Oregon.

"Once Arizona State added (lacrosse) our whole team and staff was really excited about the opportunity that would come a couple years from then," Elliott said. "It's such a great conference. The Conference of Champions. To be able to play in that conference and compete with those teams and play for a Pac-12 championship is really, really special."

Pat Rooney: rooneyp@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/prooney07