Serving the scholastic field hockey and lacrosse community since 1998

May 18, 2023 — A goal and a game from the heavens

The 90-second possession clock had ticked down to five.

There was a shade over six minutes to go in an NCAA Division I women’s lacrosse game between fifth-seeded Denver University and the fourth seed, and defending national champion, North Carolina.

With the buzzer and expiration of the clock looming, Kayla DeRose, a graduate student wearing a black Denver jersey, swung left and, using two defenders as a partial (albeit legal) screen, unleashed a shot from about seven yards that found net.

In a game which had the pace and rhythm of a World Cup final from the early 1990s, that single goal proved to be priceless in Denver’s 5-4 win over UNC.

Denver, in making its first trip to the women’s lacrosse Final Four, held North Carolina to zero goals in the final 35 minutes of play. Sam Thacker, a defender late of Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.), was a defensive stalwart, and made a key late defensive play when she pounced on a loose pass out of an 8-meter free position with 1:42 to go. North Carolina never saw the ball in the critical scoring area again.

This game, and this season, has been a product of masterful coaching by former U.S. women’s national teamer Liza Kelly, who played her scholastic lacrosse in the nation’s greatest lacrosse conference, the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland.

It’s a testament to Kelly’s recruiting that she has been able to get enormously talented players from the likes of McDonogh, Towson Notre Dame Prep (Md.), Olney Good Counsel (Md.), Alexandria Bishop Ireton (Va.), Delray American Heritage (Fla.), and the super-prep team from Hill Academy in Ontario.

The team, flying the flag of Western lacrosse, has ensured that there will be a new national champion. Too, it also raised the percentage of potential first-time champions in Division I; as of 7 p.m. Thursday, three of the last five teams — Denver, Syracuse, and Loyola — are programs which have never won a national championship.

Perhaps this win is a harbinger of things to come in women’s lacrosse — new areas of the country, new powerhouses, and perhaps a new focus on defense.

It’s going to be interesting to see what the Pioneers do against the likes of Northwestern, Syracuse, and Boston College, who have scored boatloads of goals in 2023.

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