2023 NCAA Lacrosse Rankings: No. 10 Denver (Women)

PHOTO COURTESY OF DENVER ATHLETICS

Lauren Black was the 2022 Big East Freshman of the Year.


The 2023 college lacrosse season is almost here. As is our annual tradition, we’re featuring every team ranked in the Nike/USA Lacrosse Preseason Top 20.

Check back to USALaxMagazine.com each weekday this month for new previews, scouting reports and rival analysis.

NO. 10 DENVER

2022 Record: 18-3 (5-0 Big East)
Final Ranking (2022): No. 11
Coach: Liza Kelly

TOP RETURNERS

Emelia Bohi, G, So.

Few freshmen nationally stole the spotlight like Bohi did last season. A fierce presence in the cage, Bohi recorded a .387 save percentage and anchored a Pioneers unit that ranked fifth nationally in scoring defense. After a freshman year featuring multiple Big East honors, expect even greater things from Bohi during her sophomore campaign.

Sam Thacker, D, Sr.

Thacker is an elite player who, like Bohi, was key to Denver’s rock solid defense last season. A USA Lacrosse Magazine All-American, Thacker led the nation with 3.05 caused turnovers per game in 2022. The Maryland native made an impact all over the field, as she also tallied 49 draw controls and 47 ground balls for the Pioneers.

Lauren Black, M, So.

The 2022 Big East Freshman of the Year, Black shined on offense as a rookie, ranking second on the team with 54 goals and third with 20 assists. Black will likely take on an even greater role in 2023 following the graduation of star attacker Bea Behrins.

KEY ADDITIONS

Trinity McPherson, D, Gr.

After a year away from the college game, McPherson is back for one final go-round. The Johns Hopkins alum was a defensive force during her days in Baltimore, earning USA Lacrosse Magazine All-American honors in 2021 while ranking second in the Big Ten in caused turnovers. After graduating in 2021, she spent the past year working in cybersecurity and volunteering. Her arrival in Denver adds further depth to an already-stacked defense.

Carly Frohnapfel, M, Fr.

Frohnapfel won a state championship in two sports in high school (lacrosse and basketball) while also running cross country. A versatile midfielder and draw specialist, Frohnapfel won 108 draw controls her senior year. The Pioneers have a steady draw specialist in junior Abby Jenkins, but Frohnapfel may have a chance to slot in and show her prowess.

KEY DEPARTURES

Graduations: Bea Behrins, A; Kailee Lammers, D







STORYLINES TO WATCH

Offense retools without Bea Behrins.

Denver is known for its powerhouse defense. Over the past few seasons, Behrins put the Pioneers’ offense on the map.

The crafty attacker played a central role in many of Denver’s recent crowning achievements, including its historic journey to the NCAA quarterfinals in 2019, and rewrote the school’s record books. Now, the Pioneers look to retool on offense following her departure.

Beyond Behrins, most of Denver’s offensive production will return in 2023 — including four of its top five scorers from last season. Among the returning heavyweights are Black and senior attacker Julia Gilbert, who tallied 47 goals in 2022.

Kelly credited assistant coach Brice Queener with keeping things fresh on attack as the Pioneers ready for 2023.

“I’ve always been impressed with his ability to [substitute],” Kelly said. “He uses a lot of different people on the field, gives them rest and just sees what works.”

Tough non-conference tests.

More than anything, Kelly can’t wait to see what her team does against stiff competition.

Kelly described the 2023 campaign as one of the most difficult in her time at Denver. The Pioneers’ slate features contests against ranked non-conference foes like Maryland, Boston College and Stanford.

With a daunting schedule, the Pioneers will likely have little trouble figuring out their weak spots. The matchups also provide Denver’s top-notch defense a chance to show out against some of the country’s most prolific offensive units.

The Pioneers’ slate doesn’t feature a home game until March — which likely means no cold weather cancelations like against Boston College last season. But this could be challenging in regard to balancing school, Kelly said, as well as whatever else is thrown their way.

Youth movement.

Yes, Denver has a fair share of upperclassmen stars like Thacker and Gilbert. But its underclassmen are poised to steal the show this season.

With Behrins’ departure, Black will certainly take on a larger role on offense. Just a sophomore, she’s the crux of the Pioneers’ returners on attack.

Kelly said upperclassmen like Gilbert and graduate Kayla DeRose helped ease the pressure off Black during her early days at Denver. Now, Kelly said Black will take more responsibility as a seasoned sophomore building on a dynamic freshman campaign.

“It’s going to be fun to see [her] step into more of a leadership role this year,” Kelly said. “[Like] now, ‘Hey, you’ve set the tone, you’ve set expectations and now you have to step up and deliver.”

On the defensive end, Bohi will look to continue her winning ways from 2022. This season, she’s joined by another sophomore goalkeeper, Skyler Constantino, who transferred from the University of Indianapolis.

ENEMY LINES
WHAT RIVALS ARE SAYING ABOUT THE PIONEERS

“Liza is an amazing coach. She’ll try to pick apart a team’s weakness, and I don’t think anyone does it better than Liza does it. That defense gives people problems.”

BEYOND THE BASICS
POWERED BY LACROSSE REFERENCE

3rd

The post-Behrins era at Peter Barton is here, but it’s the defense that has helped Denver reach the heights it has reached these past few years. Last year, the Pios ended with the third-rated opponent-adjusted defense last year. They haven’t finished a season worse than seventh by this metric since 2017.

Lacrosse Reference Glossary

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