Fall Ball Focus: Denver Looking to Build Leaders While it Fills Holes

PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

Freshman goalie Emilia Bohi could compete for playing time after the graduation of all-conference goalie Amelia Cole.


SPARKS, Md. — Losing players from a year prior is not a unique situation. It’s the nature of college sports, with graduations and transfers making every new season a new puzzle to complete.

The expectation is to have to fill a handful of roles. Not Denver. The Pios are basically a clean slate.

Key multi-year contributors like Hannah Liddy, Eliza Radochonski, Quintin Hoch-Bullen and Molly Little have graduated as a volunteer assistant — though Little is now on the coaching staff — leaving holes to fill both in terms of production and leadership.

“We definitely lost a lot of key positions,” said Liza Kelly, who is entering her 16th season as Denver’s head coach. “We graduated [goalie Amelia Cole], who was all-conference, and we graduated a majority of our attack. We’re just trying to reload in those spots as best we can.”

To that end, Kelly is looking to several young players and players who previously served in supporting roles to take that next step in their development. Bea Behrins (51 goals, 17 assists) will be the offensive leader and help take some of the pressure off other areas of the field, but she can’t do it alone. Julia Gilbert (26 goals) and Kayla DeRose (16 goals) each played in all 17 games last spring without a start. That’ll likely change in a few months.

Even with Behrins serving as the offensive catalyst, expect Denver’s offense to be the sum of its parts. That’s what Kelly hopes every one of her teams will look like. A team that plays with the “utmost grit” is the goal.

“Share the ball. We want everybody involved in it,” Kelly said after a fall scrimmage against Towson at USA Lacrosse headquarters earlier in October. “It’s not going to be one or two people.”







Using the fall to develop on the field is pivotal, but Kelly is also using the fall to train her players to be better leaders. Lacking leadership at the top with the graduation of so many veterans means Kelly’s players need to hold each other accountable.

The Coach Character Program consists of weekly meetings, with the goal being that each player learns how to be a mentor and to coach from within. Players are learning how to have tough conversations as teammates and how to get the most out of each other.

“It’s that broad range of, ‘How do I lead myself to lead my team?’” Kelly said.

Even though a sizable chunk of Denver’s roster is either new or lacking playing time in significant moments, there’s still a chip on the shoulders of the Pios. Denver was a blistering 16-0 during the regular season, even topping a much-improved UConn three times en route to the Big East championship.

That 15-1 mark was not rewarded by the NCAA Selection Committee, as the Pios were sent to a pod in Evanston, Ill., that included Northwestern and Stanford. Denver outlasted Stanford — which was 11-0 entering the NCAA tournament — 15-13 before getting blown away by Northwestern 19-4 in the second round.

“Last year was just so weird,” Kelly said. “With last year’s chip, I mean, yeah, I think for Denver and Stanford to get sent to Northwestern was kind of a kick in the teeth.”

So Kelly will turn the page onto a new season while still using 2021 as a bit of motivation. It’s not as if the Pios need it. Seemingly everyone on the roster has something to prove with so many valuable roles up for grabs. Denver players showed that urgency against Towson.

“If we could be a gritty team every single year, that would be first and foremost,” Kelly said. “A lot of heart, and a lot of intensity.”

DENVER AT A GLANCE

Brice Queener was promoted to associate head coach this offseason … Both Little and assistant coach Brittany Read played this summer in the inaugural season of Athletes Unlimited Lacrosse … Behrins and Sammie Morton are Denver’s lone graduate students. Morton, a defender, was a first-time starter last year … The DeRose triplets — Kayla, Gracie and Taylor — should each have a role on this season’s team … Chloe Lewis and Victoria Macres are the returning goalies, joined by freshman Emelia Bohi. Macres is the only one of the trio with a collegiate start under her belt.

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