January 16, 2014

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#LMRanks: No. 17 Denver Pioneers (WD1)

by Sean Burns | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | College Preview 2014

After a program breakthrough last spring, the Pioneers return a stacked offense with hopes of building on that success in 2014. (Gani Pinero)

Previous: No. 18 Navy Midshipmen | Next: No. 16 UMass Minutewomen

Vitals

2013 Record: 18-3 (8-0 MPSF)
Coach: Liza Kelly (8th Season)
Record at Denver: 89-39

Top Returner

A Jill Remenapp (Jr.)
Set a team record with 113 points as a sophomore while leading the NCAA in assists with 74, second-most all-time. With the graduation of Denver's all-time leading scorer Kara Secora, she'll be expected to lead even more this spring as she finds new targets for those assists.

X-Factor

M Monica Lucas (So.)
A touted recruit out of Maryland, Lucas is one of a large sophomore class expected to play a much larger role after the large group that graduated after the spring. Lucas played in 11 games and had four points as a freshman, but could play a big role going forward.

NCAA Tournament Trend

2009 - DNQ
2010 - DNQ
2011 - DNQ
2012 - DNQ
2013 – Second Round

What's New?

Expectations of success in more than just the MPSF. Denver has been a solid program for the western-most league in Women's Division I, but had never made a NCAA tournament before last spring. Now, with many of the components of that success returning, the Pioneers have the burden of wondering whether or not they can match what people think they're capable of this time around.

Telling Number?

6
Denver returns a whopping six players who had 15 or more goals a year ago, with only all-time leading scorer Kara Secora (58G, 28A) gone from last year's scoring machine. With assist machine Remenapp running the show again, don't expect the offense to drop off much.

Enemy Lines

"Last year's return to form surprised many, but shouldn't have. Expect them to win the MPSF and take the automatic bid... If they had returned their team from last year I rank put them as high as 12th, but they lost some stars... Proved to themselves last year that they can compete."

2013 Recap

In a Nutshell: The best season in school history saw the tone set early with a 19-13 win over a Louisville squad that was ranked No. 20 at the time. That was the first in what would become a 15-game win streak that would last all the way to the MPSF finals against Stanford. Though that was a loss, Denver received a bid to the NCAA tournament and topped Jacksonville 14-7 before falling to Florida in the second round.

High Point: Beating Stanford 14-10 on April 5th at home. Denver was on a tear, winning nine straight to come into the contest 11-1. But the Cardinal were ranked No. 10 at the time and it took this win to show the rest of the country that Denver was for real.

Low Point: Just a month later and still riding that winning streak, Stanford flipped the script on Denver, taking a 7-6 win in the MPSF finals, the eighth time in ten years the Cardinal has taken home the title.

2014 Outlook

Best Case: With goalie Hannah Hook (8.89 GAA, 51.4% saves) returning to anchor the back line that loses all-time program caused turnover leader Kate Henrich and a cornucopia of offensive talent, the Pioneers pick up where they left off a year ago. Remenapp continues to dish out points, with Jenn Eteal (52G, 14A), Rachel Dillon (33, 4), Rachel McKinnon (29,2), Annabelle Gilbride (21, 1) and Meredith Harris (18, 5) lighting the lamp all game.

"The idea is that we want to get better rather than plateauing or stepping back," Kelly said. "The new rules are exciting – we've always played a pressure defense and now things mesh well with that style, rules-wise. We really want to draw a parallel with the men's program [at Denver] and continue our rise up."

Worst Case: With the leading scorer and turnover machine gone, those are two key holes to fill. The schedule, broadly similar to a year ago, will also make the MPSF tournament and its AQ a key – with so few nationally-ranked teams on the slate, Denver can't count on another at-large bid, particularly if it doesn't go into the tournament with a gaudy record like a year ago. And the rest of the MPSF isn't likely to sit around and concede that the Pioneers and Cardinal are going to run the show either.

"Everybody's showing incredible improvement," Kelly said. "There's a lot of parity in our conference games, and you really have to show up for everything."

Lacrosse Magazine will continue its 2014 college lacrosse preview throughout January and into February, with team-by-team breakdowns of the top teams in NCAA Division I, II and III men's and women's lacrosse. Follow the countdown at LaxMagazine.com/LMRanks and on twitter at#LMRanks.


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