Photo: By Jeremy Papasso, buffzone.com Feb 12, 2016
As DU women’s lacrosse (#5 seed) heads to Palo Alto for a Thursday night’s game against UC-Davis (#4 seed), they face the unenviable task of winning 3 games in three days to secure the tournament win and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
In the past 12 years, Stanford (9th IWLCA) has won 9 titles and the Cardinal are playing at home with a first-round bye. Top seed USC (5th IWLCA), is 17-0 and also has a bye. DU essentially has a quarterfinal play-in game against UC-Davis.
What needs to happen if DU is to win the tournament, especially with the effective play-in game?
DU has been playing in Denver for 4 out of their last 5 games. They have been playing at altitude so they should not be travel weary. Lacrosse, unlike many other sports, features multi-day events and multi-game days at the club and high school levels so this type of schedule is not a total shock. DU has only played back to back games over two days once this season and they thrashed St. Mary’s and Cal.
The ideal path for the Pioneers would be to jump out to a quick lead against UC-Davis and avoid the stress and energy of a tight first-round game. This is the Aggies’ first trip to the playoffs. UC-Davis first-year head coach Tee Ladouceur said, “The vibe is really good with the girls. They’re just excited. They have nothing to lose. It’s the first time in the tournament for any of them, so I think they’re just excited to have the freedom to take risks and do what we have to do to get it done. There really is nothing to lose.”
The big part of the challenge facing the Pioneers is the possibility of playing two Top 10 programs over the following two days.
If Denver beats UC-Davis, they play undefeated USC. Will the Trojans overlook Denver in anticipation of a Stanford showdown? Will they put in their best effort – after all, they are already a cinch to receive an NCAA berth. Denver recently played USC tightly in Denver in a 9-6 loss, but the Pioneers have gotten even better since that game. Also, USC has never won a MPSF tournament championship. Until they win the tournament, the pressure is on them to prove it. Denver won the championship in 2014.
Then, the ‘extra game’.
The ideal result would be a DU win in the semifinals and a #3 seed Colorado upset of #2 seed USC. That would pit Denver against rival Colorado. The teams played to a tight 11-10 final (W – Colorado) result in the first game of the season in Denver. By any measure, Denver has made huge improvement since that game. Whatever fatigue existed heading into the Championship final would be offset. Both squads would be playing under the same conditions with three games in three days and energized by their geographic rivalry.
More likely, DU would be heading into the Championship game against Stanford on the Cardinal home turf. This would be the toughest game by far after DU expends the physical and emotional energy it would certainly take to knock off the undefeated Trojans. The Cardinal would have the extra game of rest and defeated Denver 9-5 in Palo Alto earlier in the season and have the psychological advantage of invincibility having dominated the MPSF over the past 12 years. This game would boil down to mental toughness.
The road ahead is certainly going to be tough for the Pioneers – but not impossible.