Tigers Rested, Refocused, Ready for Prowl


In four wins last week, No. 16 Colorado College senior midfielder Ellie Meyer caused 12 turnovers, scooped nine ground balls, scored six goals and grabbed five draw controls to earn SCAC Player of the Week honors.

Beware the crouching Tiger.

In Division III women’s lacrosse circles, that might go double after a bye week.

Such represents the status of Colorado College, 11-0, ranked No. 16 in the Nike/US Lacrosse Division III Top 20, and resting up during a nine-day break between games. The Tigers have run their way to the top of Western programs, and veteran coach Susan Stuart has more in mind to prepare her team for an April trip that will offer significant tests.

“We have some time to re-do some of what we do offensively and defensively, take a break from prepping for the next team, and just focus on us,” Stuart, in her 25th season atop the Tigers, said. “We’ve watched a lot of film. We are approaching it as halftime, so we can take a fresh look.”

Don’t expect the Tigers to change their stripes completely — their 17.27 goals-per-game average ranks eighth in the country, and they will continue to run in pursuit of their 11th NCAA tournament bid. But Stuart, a former two-time FIL World Championship goalie for Team Canada, long has known the value of instilling the right mindset in her troops, especially at this essentially independent program that offers a unique academic calendar.

“We work best when we have the mindset of making opponents play us,” Stuart said. “You can build up a TCNJ so much, that you can lose the game in your mind before you even play. That’s happened to us in the past, but we’ve learned from that. We focus on us, know our strengths, and put together a gameplan that takes that to our opponents.”

That’s worked out nicely for the Tigers in recent years. Colorado College last season tied its single-season record for wins with 15 and defeated Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Eight starters returned for 2019, but attackers Steph Kelly and Annie DeFrino — the former representing the program’s all-time leader in points, assists and draw controls, and the latter, its all-time goal scorer — graduated.

Juniors Eva King (32 goals, 25 assists) and Allie Thuet (29 G, 16 A) thus far have validated Stuart’s internal confidence in the returning front line. The bonus has been the added depth in the midfield, where each of now-three full lines boast fast athletes that enable the Tigers’ up-tempo style.

Freshman Maggie O’Donnell, a four-year varsity player at Thayer Academy (Mass.), has made an immediate presence with 25 goals and 19 assists. Junior Lauren Pejza and senior Ellie Meyer share 15-goal and nine-assist lines. Pejza leads with 39 draw controls, and Meyer has caused a team-high 23 turnovers.

Maggie O'Donnell, Colorado College
Freshman Maggie O’Donnell ranks second on the Tigers with 19 assists (Charlie Lengal photo).

“We were excited when Maggie committed to us,” Stuart said. “She came in with a ton of talent. She’s got a great stick and great vision for a freshman.”

That vision, combined with the Tigers’ transition game, has proven contagious. They have assisted on 109 of 155 non-free-position goals, good for 70.3 percent and an increase of 2.4 percent over last season. Behind all of this, sophomore goalie Alena Stern, who played 75 percent of all the minutes last year, has improved her save percentage from 44.7 to 53.7.

The college’s block calendar, which has students taking one class at a time for three weeks each, contributes to the Tigers’ national-looking roster. It’s also removed much of the “waffle time” otherwise a part of recruiting at most schools — most prospects that attend the admissions office’s presentation either love or dismiss the idea immediately, Stuart said.

And those first impressions appear accurate, given only two players have transferred to another school during her 24-year tenure.

That ability to focus, engrained in student life and likely reinforced this week, will prove key for the Tigers, who last week endured a four-game week as part of scheduling necessity. They wrap up their home schedule Tuesday against Johnson and Wales. To follow lie trips to the Twin Cities for back-to-backs against Augsburg and Hamline and to the East for back-to-backs against No. 18 TCNJ and Albright.

“For us, being an independent (the Tigers will host the three other Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference teams in a non-NCAA qualifying tournament), every game is our rivalry game,” Stuart said. “We’re looked at differently to make the NCAA tournament, but that’s allowed us to put more focus on us, as well.”

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