When 5th-seeded Denver Women’s Lacrosse (19-0) plays the University of Southern California (16-3) Friday at 3:00 pm MT at Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium, two similar teams will take the field. Despite the controversy regarding Denver’s lower-than-deserved seed, the Pioneers have a challenging game ahead of them against the defensive-minded USC Trojans – a team that mirrors the Pioneers in many ways.
Starting with head coaches, Liza Kelly and Lindsey Munday, both come into the game with successful playing experience and excellent records guiding their programs. DU’s Liza Kelly played midfielder at the University of Delaware from 1995-98, earning All-America honors in 1996, 1997, and 1998, before playing for the United States National team from 1997-2001. Kelly is in her 18th year coaching at Denver after five seasons as an assistant at Boston University. Kelly owns a 297-109 (.731) overall record in her coaching career and is 233-76 (.754) during her time at DU.
Munday has a nearly identical background to Kelly and an equal measure of success as a player and coach. As a player, Munday won a pair of NCAA titles with Northwestern in 2005 and 2006. She then became an assistant at NU where she helped the Wildcats to another three titles from 2007-09. As a player, Munday’s performance on the field landed her a spot on the 2009 U.S. women’s national team At the age of 26, following a brief head coaching stint, she assumed head coaching reins at USC where she recently completed her 11th regular season. Through her eleven seasons, Munday holds a 139-57 (.709) overall record in LA.
Both teams thrive on a stout defense. Denver is number one in the country in scoring defense, allowing just 5.84 goals per game while the Trojans sit in fifth (7.89) out of 120 Division I women’s lacrosse programs. Both teams’ aggression on the defensive end can be found in caused turnovers where Denver is second nationally with 12.58 and the Trojans seventh at 10.79. Denver looks to have the advantage on draw controls winning 63% while the Trojans win fewer than fifty percent at a 49% clip. DU will have to contend with USC’s Emma Wrightman, the PAC-12 defender of the year.
Another slight edge for Denver is in the cage. Emilia Bohi and her backline mates including the BIG EAST Defender of the Year Sam Thacker stifle opponents, with a save percentage of .523 (5th) vs .448 (37th) for the Trojans. Still, the Trojans have Kait Devil in goal, Co-Goalkeeper of the Year for the Pac-12. Statistically, the teams are nearly even-up when it comes to ground balls and turnovers.
Yet again, the teams’ offenses are nearly identical. Denver scores 12.84 goals per game to the Trojan’s 12.63 tallies per game. A negligible shooting efficiency edge goes to USC, converting on 43.6% of their shots to 42.7% for DU. On the season, USC has outscored their opponents 240 -150. Isabelle Vitale, appropriately wearing the #1 jersey, leads the Trojans with 36 goals and 69 total points. Close behind, attacker Ella Heaney has 32 goals and 26 assists. Attacker Maggie Brown leads with the most goals, 40, and accrued 50 points while PAC-12 midfielder of the Year Claudia Chevitz has chipped in 36 goals and 5 assists. The Trojans had nine players receive All-Pac-12 honors.
The Pioneers, for their part, have outscored their opponents 244-111. Denver’s offense is led by senior Julia Gilbert, the BIG EAST Co-Attacker of the Year, with 50 goals and 8 assists. Freshman Ryan Dineen leads the team in assists with 22 to go along with her 27 goals. Sophomore Lauren Black is second on the team with goals scored, 32, along with 5 assists. Senior midfielder Ellie Curry joins the attack with 30 goals and 12 assists. Junior Sloane Kipp added 28 goals and 11 assists to balance out the Pioneer attack. The Pioneers also had nine players with conference regular season honors.
When it comes to common opponents, both teams played CU, Villanova, and BC. Denver slipped by CU mid-February 9-8 while they were still finding their offensive footing. The Trojans swept the Buffaloes 17-3 and 16-13 in March and April, the first of which came during Pac-12 regular season play. Boston College bashed the Trojans in both teams’ first game of the season 14-3 while Denver defeated BC in Jacksonville 13-8 in March. USC handily defeated Villanova 15-4 in early March while DU swept the Wildcats 17-4 and 12-7 in April and May, respectively.
The game will be tight as both teams are evenly matched. The Pioneers have the home-field advantage and may be even more motivated due to the disrespect sent their way by the selection committee. Denver wins the wet, low-scoring tilt, 11-9.
Top photo of Isabelle Vitale courtesy of USC Athletics