Colorado Battles Western Powers for Inaugural Pac-12 Title


Darby Kiernan, a 2017 All-American, will lead the Buffs in their quest for the first Pac-12 title.

US Lacrosse Magazine released the Nike/US Lacrosse Division I Women’s Preseason Top 20 on Jan. 8. Team-by-team previews will be unveiled on throughout January and will also appear as part of the magazine’s NCAA preview edition that mails to US Lacrosse members Feb. 1 — opening day of the 2018 college lacrosse season.

No. 16 Colorado

2017 Record: 16-4 (7-1 MPSF)
Coach: Ann Elliott (5th year)
All-Time Record: 51-24
NCAA Appearances: 1
Final Fours: 0
Championships: 0

Though Denver, Stanford and, more recently, USC have carried the torch of western-state lacrosse expansion, Colorado’s 2017 season put them firmly into the region’s upper tier, knocking on the door of national success.

In just their fourth year in Division I, the Buffs rose to No. 4 in the nation at one point during the season, and were invited to the NCAA tournament for the first time, with program-lifting victories over Northwestern, UMass and Penn State.

“I’d be lying if I said I thought we’d be where we are now,” said Colorado coach Ann Elliott, who enters her fifth year at the helm of Colorado, which will be her first without the players who started the program with her in 2014. “Building a program takes a lot of investment and they grew and believed in themselves.”

That just-departed class included top scorers Johnna Fusco and Katie Macleay, as well as Paige Soenksen, the only starting goalie Colorado has ever had.

No victories meant more to Colorado than its first two wins ever over conference rival Stanford. The Buffs beat the Cardinal in both the regular season, to claim second place in the MPSF standings, and in the semifinals of the MPSF tournament.

The tournament victory sent Colorado to its first conference championship game and, despite a loss in the final to USC, the NCAA tournament. Stanford had bounced Colorado from three straight MPSF tournaments, ending those seasons.

The Buffs figure to challenge USC, Stanford and fast-rising Oregon for the first-ever Pac 12 conference title. 

The Case For Colorado

For the first time in program history, Colorado will be able to build its team around returning All-Americans, with one on each end of the field. Senior Sarah Brown was the team’s top defender in 2017, earning second-team IWLCA honors, while Darby Kiernan was named to the third team after leading the Buffs with 52 goals and 25 assists. The two also accounted for more than half of the team’s total draw controls, as Kiernan lead the Buffs with 120 and Brown had 41. Defense will likely be Colorado’s strength with most starters back. Along with Brown, all-MPSF selection Kelsie Garrison and Olivia Aschman were full-time starters in 2017. Top midfielder Miranda Stinson also returns. “When you play the best teams in the country its not about 1-on-1 it’s about team defense," Elliott said. "We learned a lot from our tough losses.”

The Case Against Colorado

There are two questions for Colorado’s season: Who will score the goals and who will stop them? Gone is Paige Soenksen, the only regular goalie the team has had since its Division I debut. As a senior in 2017, the third-team All-American made 143 saves, after stopping 203 shots as a freshman. Senior Sophia Gambitsky and sophomore Julia Lisella will compete for her spot. Gambitsky is a red-shirt senior, having entered with Soenksen’s class, but sat out her junior year. “I think that experience she’s had is really exciting,” said Elliott. “We have great options and come February, we’ll see where we’re at." Offensively, Colorado scored 399 points in 2017, but three top scorers are gone, including 50-goal scorer Johnna Fusco and Katie Macleay (40). Colorado will need role players to emerge to help Kiernan, Stinson and Carly Cox (27 goals).

Path to the Playoffs

As most of the MPSF, including Colorado, transitions to the Pac-12, Stanford and USC will again play western gatekeepers for the postseason. But after 2017, the Buffs can now view their California peers as equals. They’ll have a major postseason leg-up by hosting the inaugural Pac-12 championship tournament in April. They’ll want to win their first conference title, but just reaching the final game is the key. In each of the last five years, the teams that met in the MPSF tournament finals both received NCAA bids.

Players To Watch

Darby Kiernan, A, Sr.
120 DCs, 77 PTs

Kiernan is one of three Buffaloes named as Colorado’s first-ever All-Americans in 2017. The team’s top draw specialist recorded 19 against Stetson, most in MPSF history and fifth in NCAA history, leading to ational player of the week honors, the program’s first. She tallied four goals and eight draw controls against Penn State, the Buffs first-ever road win over a ranked team. “Darby is probably the most unselfish player I’ve ever coached in a position that obviously garners a lot of attention,” said Elliott. “This fall, she’s really embraced that role as a leader.”

Sarah Brown, D, Sr.
39 GB, 33 CT

The hometown girl from Boulder, Co., became her school’s first-ever second-team All American in 2017, anchoring Colorado’s No. 3-ranked scoring defense. Brown will be an even larger piece of the puzzle with the departure of All-American goalie Paige Soenksen. Brown also set the MPSF tournament record for ground balls and caused turnovers in a season-defining win over Stanford.

Miranda Stinson, M, Jr.
36 G, 15 FPG

Stinson is the top returning scorer behind Kiernan who excels at drawing and finishing free-position goals (0.75 per game). She recorded a school-record nine points against Penn State, earning IWLCA Offensive Player of the Week honors.

National Rankings




Offense 17th 14.45 GPG
Defense 3rd 8.1 GPG
Draws 23rd 14.3/game
Ground Balls 23rd 19.95/game
Caused TO 93rd 7.55/game
Shooting 28th 44.6%
FP Shooting 33rd 45.1%
Yellow Cards 56th 28
Assists T-47th 5.50/game
Turnovers 6th 13.95/game
Shots 18th 32.40/game

Power Ratings (Scale of 1-5)






Colorado’s record against ranked teams in 2016, which saw the Buffs climb all the way to No. 4 in national polls at one point. 

5-Year Trend



2013 -
2014 11
2015 11
2016 13
2017 16

Coach Confidential
Ann Elliott

“It's finding our identity and leadership roles on the field. We’re missing half our starters, and while we have a lot of talent to replace them, it’s really finding our roles on the field and replacing what we’ve lost from both a leadership and points standpoint.”

Enemy Lines
Rival Coaches

“Had a great year and lost some key players, but this team is well-coached. ... This is a team we are excited to see this year. … They’ve continually improved each season and will be a great test. ... Hit with graduations. Darby Keirnan leads the charge on offense and on the draw circle. ... Can CU build on its historic year last year? ... Must replace a great class. Incredible year in 2017 – excited to see what they can do in 2018. ... Big loss in net. ... Certainly had a landmark season last year. They’ve made their mark on the Division I lacrosse world. ... They are really really scrappy and on those ‘hustle’ plays, ground balls or 50-50 balls, the will never give up. ... Lost a ton. They need to ask kids to step up and play."

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