The #3 Denver Pioneers (16-0, 5-0 BIG EAST) are rolling. There is arguably no better women’s lacrosse team in the country and there is inarguably no hotter team than DU. With yesterday’s 15-2 Senior Day throttling of the Georgetown Hoyas (6-10, 1-4 BIG EAST), Denver remains the only unbeaten team in the country. #5 Boston College’s instant-classic victory over #1 Syracuse on Friday night sealed that status and gives the Pios an outside shot at earning their first #1 ranking in program history.
Just about everything on Saturday afternoon went to plan for the Pioneers, especially in the first half. They scored the game’s first three goals, all within the first seven and a half minutes of the game, and held an 11-1 halftime lead. By end of the opening 30 minutes, Denver held a dominant edge in just about every possible statistic from draw controls (10-3) to caused turnovers (12-8) and shots on goal (18-4), the Pioneers leaned on everything that helped them get to 15-0 entering Senior Day.
“It was just so much fun,” said senior captain Julia Gilbert after scoring two goals an adding an assist. “That’s kind of been our motto this season and that’s what we carried into this game. We just came out to have fun and play hard for all the seniors.”
Thanks to DU’s 10-plus goal lead, the entire second half was played with a running clock and with the result well in hand, the focus shifted from scoring as many goals as possible against a completely overmatched team to padding the stats for as many seniors as possible.
“I think Georgetown did a good job of switching defenses on us a couple of times,” DU head coach Liza Kelly said of the visitors’ improved play in the second half. “I thought we were trying a little too hard at times to get certain people goals, so maybe we just needed to score rather than worry about who was doing it. I liked that unselfish play.”
But even with the players’ change in strategy and an impressive five-for-nine performance from Leah Warehime, the Hoyas’ backup goalie who entered the game after starter Emily Gaven surrendered 11 goals on DU’s 18 first-half shots, there was nothing stopping the Pioneers from making 2023 Senior Day one to remember for everyone in attendance.
“I think it’s electrifying,” Gilbert said of the large, vocal crowd at Peter Barton yesterday. “I think it’s awesome that we had everyone cheering, all the parents, all the fans. It means so much to us. In the past, we may not have had this so we really, really appreciate all the people that come out and support us.”
The emphasis throughout the day was certainly on the seniors and making sure their final regular season game at Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium was a special one. But there was an air of expectation that hung over the cold, damp field as Denver continued their final push towards the postseason and, hopefully, an NCAA Tournament Regionals hosting role. The Pioneers have a final tuneup against a streaking Marquette team next weekend before the games really begin to matter.
“Marquette is a really, really good team,” Kelly said of next weekend’s matchup. “They’re winning as a team on both ends of the field, they have a tough ride, so we have to go back to work on Tuesday.”
The Golden Eagles who have only lost once are the only other team in the BIG EAST that hasn’t yet lost a conference matchup. Their only loss this season was to one of the two teams currently ranked ahead of Denver – Northwestern. Since that loss, Marquette has ripped off 12-straight victories, though they haven’t done it in the kind of style that the Pioneers have. In other words, they’re just playing solid lacrosse across the field while the Pioneers have made a habit of completely dominating the opposition both offensively and defensively throughout their season-long 16-game winning streak.
Plus, Marquette will be celebrating their own Senior Day next weekend in Milwaukee which will certainly only increase the stakes and the Golden Eagles’ desire for the upset.
“Senior Day is always something that’s really special for us as a program,” Kelly said. “We have a lot of buy-in and take it really seriously. Being able to end the game with them all on the field together was awesome.”
On a cold Saturday afternoon in Denver, though, the Pioneers not only once again showed why their city is the Lacrosse Capital of the West but they sent their program’s most decorated senior class out in style. With proud parents and friends watching and cheering extra loud every time the seniors touched the ball, DU once again made the Crimson and Gold clad crowd beam with pride. At least on this day and in this special season, this senior class transformed the University of Denver from a hockey school into a women’s lacrosse school. And they’re not done yet.
“This [senior] class has been phenomenal,” Kelly raved. “I think if you look at their record, it’s ridiculous how many games they’ve won, the records they’ve set. We knew freshman year that they were just really good leaders and they’ve done it the whole four years they’ve been here.”
Top photo courtesy of Adri Meyer via DU Athletics