Pioneers Win Third-Straight BIG EAST Title, Enter NCAA Tournament As Country’s Only Unbeaten Team

BIG EAST Champions. Yet again. The Denver Women’s Lacrosse program reached the pinnacle of the conference three years ago and they haven’t left. Using timely offense, dominant draw control play, and yet another masterful defensive performance, the #5(lol) and top-seeded Denver Pioneers (19-0, 6-0 BIG EAST) topped the #24 UConn Huskies (12-5, 4-2) by a score of 11-6 in Storrs, Connecticut, on the Huskies’ own turf. The Pioneers clinched the regular season conference title with a victory over Marquette and with today’s victory, they clinched the conference double. But, as great as the two championships are, the Pioneers’ goal – a national championship – is still in front of them.

The BIG EAST title game didn’t exactly start the way the Pioneers planned. UConn scored first a few minutes into the game and the Huskies’ defense prevented the Pioneers’ offense from finding a rhythm. It was as if the two teams traded roles early on with Connecticut playing smothering defense while the Pioneers’ offense struggled. It wasn’t until there were only 33 seconds left in the opening quarter that Charlotte Boote finally found the back of the net to tie it up entering the second. Denver’s defense was characteristically stout and goalkeeper Emilia Bohi was strong, making four of her 13 saves (on 19 total shots on goal) in the first quarter alone. It just took the offense a little while to get untracked.

Once they found their rhythm in the second quarter, though, it was all Pioneers. They outscored the Huskies 5-2 to close out the first half while senior captain Julia Gilbert tallied a hat trick within the span of just 4:38.

After Gilbert scored her first goal and UConn responded to tie back up at two, UConn’s Morgan Carter appeared to score to restore the Huskies’ one-goal lead but she hit a Pioneer’s head on her shot follow-through, negating the goal and earning Carter a yellow card for a dangerous shot. Mollie Estepp scored on DU’s ensuing woman-up advantage to restore DU’s lead. The two-goal swing that saw the score go from what could have been 3-2 Huskies to 3-2 Pioneers was the turning point and Denver never looked back as Estepp’s goal sparked a four-goal DU run and they led 6-3 at the half.

By the start of the third quarter, the Pioneers had taken complete control of the game and never let the Huskies back to within fewer than two goals. Madelyn George scored for UConn to open the second half but that sparked yet another four-goal run for DU that extended the lead to 10-4 early in the fourth quarter. Gilbert scored the first of those four goals, making it a four-goal afternoon and notching her 50th of the season, eclipsing her previous personal record of 47, set last year.

With Denver’s defensive strength, draw control mastery, and one of the best goaltenders in the country, the Pioneers coasted to their third-straight BIG EAST title. They gave up two more goals over the course of the final quarter but the lead was never in doubt while freshman phenom Ryan Dineen added the exclamation point to the 11-6 championship victory with her second of the day with 22 seconds left.

Denver led the way in nearly every statistic from shots on goal (30-19) to caused turnovers (10-9), five of which were caused by Bryn McCaughey, but it was their 16-5 draw control margin that allowed the Pioneers to impose their will on an overmatched UConn team. If you don’t have the ball, you can’t score and the Pioneers dominated possession all game long.

Now, the unbeaten Pioneers’ attention turns to this evening’s NCAA Lacrosse Selection Show (7 pm MT on ESPNU) to learn of their seed. Despite being the only unbeaten team in the country, there is plenty of speculation that the committee could punish the Pioneers for playing in a relatively weaker conference and allow three ACC teams (Boston College, Syracuse, and North Carolina) and Northwestern to be the top four seeds and clinch home field advantage until Championship Weekend. You will remember that along the way to their 19-0 record, the Pioneers beat the ACC champions, Boston College, 13-8 in Jacksonville two months ago (not to mention their victory over then-#5 Maryland in College Park two weeks prior).

But, no matter what decision the committee makes this evening, the Pioneers enter the NCAA Tournament not only as the only unbeaten team in the country but also, thanks in large part to its #1-ranked scoring defense, they have as good a chance as anyone to make a deep run towards the program’s first-ever Championship Weekend appearance in Cary, NC over Memorial Day Weekend.

The Pioneers are champions once again. They’ve claimed the BIG EAST Regular Season title and now they’ve claimed the BIG EAST Tournament. There’s only one championship left to claim.


Top photo of the Pioneers celebrating their championship courtesy of the BIG EAST Conference

3 thoughts on “Pioneers Win Third-Straight BIG EAST Title, Enter NCAA Tournament As Country’s Only Unbeaten Team”

  1. DU will probably be the #5 overall seed, despite the perfect season and DU beating high-ranked programs like BC and Maryland, because the NCAA seeding system puts a higher value on Big 10 and ACC teams’ tougher overall schedules than it does on teams from lesser conferences running the table, as DU did this year.

    It’s criminal. P5 schools get enough financial advantages over other schools that they should not get the baked-in SOS advantage too.

    DU should pass the eye test as a top four program this year, but the ranking system is likely too blind to see it.

    I hope common sense prevails, but I fear the committee will screw us and hide behind the skewed SOS metric that programs outside the ACC/Big 10 can never win…

  2. DU really came back to take control of the game today. However, I think they would have had to win 20-2 or so to get a top 4 seed in the NCAAs. So, it appears they’ll have to do it the hard way and travel back east again. Possibly vs BC.
    Regardless, Liza will have them ready for all those non-believers.

  3. If DU does not get seeded in the top three, DU will still host its first and second round games as a 5-seed, but they won’t get the first round bye that goes to the top 3 overall seeds.

    That’s the travesty.

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