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Michigan women's lacrosse coach Hannah Nielsen discusses her team's growth over the last two years on the heels of UM's 9-5 loss to Denver. Eric Coughlin, The Detroit News

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Ann Arbor -- Even though a trip to the NCAA quarterfinals never materialized, Michigan women's lacrosse accomplished a lot in its sixth season.

Denver beat Michigan in the second round of the NCAA tournament, 9-5, on Sunday at UM Lacrosse Stadium, Michigan's new facility dedicated to the sport, but behind the disappointing result is a program on the rise.

"We've never been in this situation before," senior attack Adriana Pendino said. "We all wish we could have made it one more game, but other than that, we were ranked top-10 nationally, which is a huge step for the program."

Only a year ago, Michigan had never had a winning season with only one victory over a ranked opponent under its belt.

"A lot of it has to do with expectations," Michigan coach Hannah Nielsen said. "Before, even last year, if we had lost the team would just be happy to be here. But now, the faces in the locker room -- they're upset. They know they didn't play well. They knew we could have gone further, so the expectation level has really changed."

The highlights are many for Michigan in 2019. The program experienced its first winning season (16-4), first NCAA tournament appearance, first NCAA tournament win (over Jacksonville in the first round), won more than two Big Ten games for the first time and achieved the No. 8 overall seed in the big dance -- accomplishments that won't be erased by one loss, no matter the stage.

Now Michigan is emblematic of a sport that is outgrowing its East Coast roots and expanding to a level of serious national competition.

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Senior attack Adriana Pendino discusses strides the Michigan women's lacrosse program has taken on heels of the 9-5 loss to Denver in second round of NCAAs. Eric Coughlin, The Detroit News

 

"As coaches, it's great to know you're growing the game and it's evolving to new parts of the country," Nielsen said. "This part of the bracket alone, you had four teams from non-traditional areas. It's so good for the sport. There are a lot of midwestern and western teams in the tournament. No longer is it the mid-Atlantic and eastern seaboard. We'll continue to recruit from all areas and continue to put Michigan on the map year-in and year-out."

Against Denver though, Michigan had no answer for Quintin Hoch-Bullen. The sophomore attack sliced through Michigan's defense on multiple occasions, scoring five goals. Her tally with 6:26 left made the game 8-3 for Denver, essentially ending Michigan's season.

"We tried to be a little tougher offensively," Denver coach Liza Kelly said. "Both teams were very physical, so I think it was more a mentality of handling the bumps, handling the checks and taking care of the ball."

Denver had four fewer turnovers than Michigan and outshot its counterpart 29-19. Michigan went only 2-for-9 on free-position shots.

Junior midfielder Molly Garrett led Michigan with two goals. Sophomore attack Caitlin Muir, junior midfielder Nadine Stewart and Pendino scored Michigan's other goals.

Senior midfielder Elizabeth Behrins and sophomore attacks Eliza Radochonski, Bea Behrins and Hannah Liddy each scored for Denver.

Defense reigned over the first quarter of the game. The first two goals weren't scored until there was 12:12 and 8:55 left in the first half, both by Denver.

Muir answered right back for Michigan, sneaking the ball past Denver goalie Carson Gregg on a tough angle.

The first half ended with Denver up, 3-1. Michigan struggled on offense, generating only eight shots to Denver's 13, with its lone goal of the first frame coming on a low-percentage shot.

"In the beginning we were pretty stagnant and stationary around the outside," Nielsen said. "It made it easy for Denver to cover all of us."

Michigan beat Denver on the road, 12-10, earlier in the season.

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