No. 17 USC women’s lacrosse sweeps road trip to stay in Pac-12 regular-season title race

The Trojans cruised past Colorado on Friday, then used a dominant second half to pull away from Oregon on Sunday.

No. 17-ranked USC women’s lacrosse completed a 2-0 weekend on Sunday with a 16-9 victory at Oregon, following up a 15-8 Friday win at Colorado.

The Trojans never trailed in either matchup, largely due to impressive first-quarter play in both games. USC entered the weekend with a 56-31 advantage over its opponents over the first 15 minutes of play on the season.

Friday and Sunday were no different, with the Trojans jumping out to early 3-0 and 4-0 leads against the Buffaloes and Ducks, respectively.

“At times in years past, we’ve had slow starts,” head coach Lindsey Munday said. “Coming out to the game ready to play and ready from the first whistle — I think that has been a focus for us.”

Additionally, the Trojans’ defense bounced back from a lackluster performance against Stanford in its previous game, a 23-17 loss in which a normally stout USC defense allowed a season-high in goals.

Colorado never found much offensive rhythm for more than a couple of minutes at a time. The Buffaloes average almost 23 shots on goal per game but only had 16 on Friday.

That defensive success turned into plenty of offense for the Trojans, who never seemed to lose control of the contest. Even after three consecutive Colorado goals brought the hosts within three points halfway through the third quarter, USC would answer with four straight goals of its own to quell the Buffs’ slim chances at a comeback.

“We did a really good job running our offense and really working for great opportunities,” Munday said. “It’s probably one of our more complete games throughout four quarters.”

Redshirt freshman attacker Isabelle Vitale contributed to three of the four goals during that decisive second-half run for the Trojans. Without its leading scorer and team captain, fifth-year senior midfielder Kelsey Huff, USC needed its ensemble to step up.

Vitale and junior attacker Ella Heaney combined for 22 points over the weekend as the USC offense seemed perfectly capable even without its primary scoring weapon. Heaney even matched a career high with seven points on Friday.

“Since Kelsey has been out, I think it’s been a collective effort,” Munday said. “We’re really young offensively…It’s exciting to see that group kind of come into its own and continue to get better throughout the season.”

Meanwhile, Sunday’s performance wasn’t quite as consistent, despite a matching seven-goal margin of victory. Another big first quarter by USC was completely erased when Oregon came back from a 5-1 deficit to even the score at 7 by halftime. Oregon was remarkably efficient during the run, with all seven of its shots on goal finding their way past junior goalkeeper Kait Devir in the first half.

Munday attributed USC’s brief defensive struggles to being “a little complacent.”

“It was a strong start for us, but then we didn’t stick to the things that were working,” Munday said. “That was really the message at halftime … We need to play loose. We need to have fun. We need to enjoy this and we need to go out there and play together as a team.”

That message was heard loud and clear.

USC had quite a bit of fun in the second half, outscoring the Ducks 9-2 the rest of the way. At that point, the Trojans’ offense became the more efficient side, putting all 15 second-half shots on goal. Large advantages over the Ducks in ground balls and draw controls serve as further evidence of the Trojans’ renewed focus out of halftime.

Munday is committed to ensuring her team doesn’t lose that focus during the remainder of the season, with just two games left until the Pac-12 Championships. A win next week at Arizona State would keep USC in the hunt for the No. 1 seed in that tournament, a race that currently stands at a three-way tie between the Sun Devils, Trojans and Stanford Cardinal.

“Whether we win or we lose, there’s always things to learn from,” Munday said. “This team is hungry, they’re not satisfied … We know we have to be ready.”

USC will travel to Tempe Friday to face the Sun Devils at 3 p.m.