Lauren Russell Caps Colorado Academy Career as West Player of the Year

Lauren Russell ended her Colorado Academy career with a state championship victory over Cherry Creek for the third consecutive season.


Lauren Russell couldn’t avoid the rankings, as much as she tried not to pay attention to them.

Week after week, the Colorado Academy (Colo.) senior midfielder saw rival Cherry Creek (Colo.) listed above the Mustangs in the Colorado High School Athletic Association state rankings.

While she understood the logic — the Mustangs were young and Cherry Creek was loaded with returning players — it was a bit of an insult for a three-time defending state champion that hadn’t lost to an in-state opponent since April 2, 2015.

Russell, a team captain, set out to prove Colorado Academy was still the top team in the state, and she ended up guiding the Mustangs to a fourth straight title, beating Cherry Creek in the final for a fourth consecutive year. The team’s leading scorer, Russell is the Brine/US Lacrosse Magazine West Region Girls’ Player of the Year.

“It was definitely a motivating factor for me,” Russell said. “I have a lot of friends on that [Cherry Creek] team so it was good competition to see those rankings come out. We tried not to look at the rankings because at end of the day it didn’t matter until the last one, but it was in the back of our minds at practice and in big games to keep us pushing.”

Russell played a significant role as a starter and impact player at Colorado all four years of her high school career.

She led the Mustangs in scoring her final three seasons, amassing 232 goals in her four-year career, including 66 as a senior. Russell also finished with 63 assists, 161 ground balls and 165 draw wins for her career.

“It’s incredible what she accomplished,” coach Stephanie Sanders said.

With 10 freshmen on the roster, Russell wasn’t so sure how the season would go but she was determined to keep alive the tradition she had been a part of building.

Colorado Academy hadn’t won a state title since 2000 when Russell entered high school.  

“Just knowing how many freshman were going to be on the team was a little nerve-wracking,” Russell said. “It’s a big role to have everyone on the team looking up to you. I was worried about that and worried I wouldn’t be able to do everything I needed to to help the team. It ended up working out great.”

Russell recalls a conversation she and her co-captain had with the underclassmen about the need to stay focused. Being a three-time defending state champion was a lot of pressure, but Russell was impressed with how the young players handled it.

Meanwhile, Russell was handling all kinds of pressure from opponents who seemed to lock in on her after a 67-goal junior season. She managed to keep her scoring up, averaging 3.0 goals per game.

“I saw some faceguards, which is always a challenge because no one likes being in faceguards, but all the girls on different teams I knew well, so that was fun, because we were always at each other’s throats on the field,” Russell said. “I felt some pressure, especially being one of four seniors and having attention on me, but I tried not to let it phase me. I really just tried to focus on the ground balls, focus on what my coach was telling me and my teammates and never let it get in my head.”

Sanders emphasized improvement on the draw, and that was where Russell saw her biggest gains, statistically. After finishing with 37 draw wins in 2017, she collected 63 draw wins this year to go along with 49 ground balls.

Russell, a fiery competitor, lined up on the defensive side of the circle and learned to hesitate a little to see where the ball was headed before making a dash toward the ball. Freshman Katharine Merrifield took the draws, and Russell ended up the benefactor on a lot of loose balls.

“I was trying to do the little thing and focus on the little things. Coach always told us to draw better because if you don’t have the ball you can’t win,” Russell said. “Being such a young team that was going to be especially important. I focused on that and ground balls, which don’t seem to matter as much when you’re looking at stats but they are so critical. We have so many threats on offense so I was just trying to help as much as I could to get the ball into the attack.”

Russell said she had a good feeling about the season after the Mustangs secured an 11-7 win at St. Ignatius (Calif.) on March 20. Things just seemed to click in that game, she noted, and Colorado Academy rolled to a 19-0 finish, capped by a 13-7 win over Cherry Creek in a battle of unbeaten for the title.

It was the perfect ending to a stellar career for Russell, who began as the only freshman on varsity in 2015 and now moves on to play at William & Mary.

“I would never have imagined we would win four state championships,” Russell said. “When I first started, my freshman year was the first time in 15 years that we had won a title. That was a big deal. … It’s so hard to win one, let alone two or three, and four straight had never been done before in Colorado. All the support from our coaches and parents, that was a huge contributor. It was keep your head down, don’t worry about the other team. All that mattered was being there for the team and the score at the end and as long as we were learning, we were getting better. We improved so much, and it was a great feeling to go out with a fourth title.”

BRINE/US LACROSSE
WEST GIRLS’ PLAYER OF THE YEAR

LAUREN RUSSELL

School: Colorado Academy

Year: Senior

Position: Midfielder

Stats: 66 goals, 15 assists, 49 ground balls, 63 draw wins

Coach Wendy Pinta: “What she accomplished is incredible. She was an All-American … a four-time state champion, three-time leading scorer. She was the leader.”

Also considered: Carlie Leach, Lake Oswego (Ore.); Charlie Rudy, Novato (Calif.); Hali Sibilia, Cherry Creek (Colo.)







NIKE/US LACROSSE
WEST GIRLS’ TOP 10

SEASON REWIND

1. Novato (Calif.), 24-1

The Hornets collected their fourth straight North Coast Section title with a 13-9 win over Oak Ridge (Calif.). It was the closest an in-state opponent played them all season. Novato, which graduates eight seniors, dropped its only loss to then national-No. 1 McDonogh (Md.). Charlie Rudy racked up 147 goals and 53 assists and finishes her high school career with a whopping 478 goals.

2. Colorado Academy (Colo.), 19-0

The Mustangs claimed their fourth straight state title, beating Cherry Creek 13-7 in the final for a fourth consecutive year. Colorado was up just 5-4 at halftime, but went on a four-goal run to open a gap and ran away with the title in a matchup of two unbeatens. Lauren Russell, one of just four seniors on the team, led with 66 goals and 15 assists and junior Sloane Murphy added 57 goals and 13 assists. Sophomore goalie Ella Marks had a 4.5 goals against average.

3. Cherry Creek (Colo.), 18-1

The top-seeded Bruins couldn’t keep up with Colorado Academy down the stretch and fell 13-7 in the state final for a fourth straight year. Cherry Creek’s season was highlighted by a pair of wins in Virginia against St. Catherine’s and Collegiate School. Hali Sibilia paced the team with 120 points on 50 goals and 70 assists, Isabel Anema added 47 goals, 14 assists and 119 ground balls, and Katie Collins had a team-high 62 goals.

4. Bainbridge Island (Wash.), 16-0

The Spartans capped a perfect season with a 10-9 win over Mercer Island in the Washington Schoolgirls Lacrosse Association state final. Bainbridge had finished as the runners up last year following a perfect regular season. Mackenzie Chapman finished with 86 goals and 38 assists.

5. Lake Oswego (Ore.), 20-1

Katie Freeman and Carlie Leach each tallied three goals and one assist to lead the Lakers to their third straight state title with a 12-8 win over Oregon Jesuit in the OGLA final. Oswego went unbeaten against in-state opponents this season as its lone loss came against Bainbridge Island. Freeman finished with 52 goals, 20 assists and 55 draw controls, and Leach led the team in points (84) with 51 goals and 33 assists.

6. Torrey Pines (Calif.), 21-2

The Falcons picked up their third straight San Diego Section Open Division title with a 10-5 win over rival La Costa Canyon. The two teams had split games during the regular season with the Mavericks winning the first matchup March 7. All three meetings had the exact same score. Torrey Pines’ only other loss was to Potomac (Va.) in March.

7. St. Margaret’s (Calif.), 18-1

The Tartans beat two-time defending Southern Section champion Mater Dei 14-9 to claim the program’s first U.S. Lacrosse Orange County championship since 2008. That proved to be the biggest hurdle en route to securing the Southern Section title, as they beat Redondo Union 17-6 in the final. Cailin Young was named the tournament’s MVP. The team’s lone loss was to Novato.

8. La Costa Canyon (Calif.), 19-4

The Mavericks beat Coronado and La Jolla to reach the CIF San Diego Section Open Division championship but couldn’t win a rubber match with Torrey Pines in the final. LCC trailed by four at the half and couldn’t close the gap. The Mavs’ other two losses were both one-goal games, including a 9-8 loss to Potomac (Va.). Tessa Bass led the team with 77 goals and 16 assists, and Caitlin Jones added 76 goals, 14 assists, 93 draws and 77 ground balls.

9. Oak Ridge (Calif.), 21-2

The Trojans finally broke through to the North Coast Section final after losing in the semifinals the last two seasons, but they still couldn’t beat the team that had knocked them out both times. They finished runners up to Novato with a 13-9 loss in the title game. Oak Ridge had survived a 14-13 battle with San Ramon Valley in the semifinals.

10. Chaparral (Colo.), 15-3

The Wolverines’ season ended in the state semifinals with a loss to Cherry Creek, but they avenged their lone regular-season in-state loss in the quarterfinals. Chaparral beat Regis Jesuit 12-11 in overtime May 15 to advance to the final four. The Wolverines’ only other defeat came at the hands of Sacred Heart (N.Y.) on April 7.

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