The Pioneers are coming off a 13-6 season in 2008, finishing the year ranked 18th. Denver swept through the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, finishing 5-0 for the second-consecutive year before falling to Stanford 9-8 in the MPSF Championship game. The Pioneers are a senior-laden club, returning nine of its 12 starters from last season, including its top nine point scorers. The offensive charge is headed by senior Steph Coyne who was the team leader in both assists (53) and points (86). Seniors Megan Carver (69 points) and Karen Morton (61) return for Denver, as does junior Ali Flury who was the Pioneers’ top goal-scorer in 2008 with 50.
Senior defenders Natasha Davies and Jenn Moore anchor Denver’s defensive backfield, combining for 55 caused turnovers and 51 ground balls last year. The one position where the Pioneers lack experience is in net, as sophomore Katie Gold looks to earn the starting nod after posting a 2-3 record in 2008 with 48 saves, a .425 save percentage and a 9.30 goals against average. Head coach Liza Kelly has posted a 29-9 (.763) record in her three years at Denver and is 93-42 (.689) in her seven seasons as a head coach.
Friday’s game marks the fourth meeting between the Wildcats in Pioneers, and the first since 2006, with Northwestern holding a 3-0 series advantage. NU took the first meeting 16-4 in Evanston in 2004, then followed it up with a 20-9 victory in Denver in 2005. The last meeting between the two took place in Evanston in 2006 with the Wildcats coming out on top 19-10. Seniors Hilary Bowen, Meredith Frank and Hannah Nielsen each tallied a goal for the ‘Cats while Bowen and Frank each added a pair of assists.
Following the games against Denver and Team Canada in San Diego, Northwestern will have some time to prepare for the meat of its 2009 regular season as the Wildcats won’t take the field again until they meet Duquesne in Pittsburgh, Pa., on Tuesday, Feb. 17. Northwestern then resumes its rivalry with nationally-ranked Notre Dame, taking on the Irish in South Bend, Ind., on Friday, Feb. 20.