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ASU Lacrosse: Sun Devils primed for Pac-12 Tournament after record-setting regular season

No time to reLAX

Sun Devil Athletics

Arizona State women’s lacrosse head coach Tim McCormack and his team have built the foundation of their program-best regular season on four core values.

Love the game. We over me. Compete everyday. Control what you can control.

Those values were established on day one of the season. McCormack, a quintessential players’s coach, did not lecture his team about them in a distant teacher-and-student dynamic, he invited collaboration and embraced the leadership from veteran Sun Devils.

“We created those,” McCormack said. “This group took ownership and put this stuff into place. They’re just living what they provided us.”

As it has every season under McCormack, the moral compass has pointed north for the Sun Devils. 2022 was just the year the results began to follow in an exigent way.

This edition of the Sun Devil lacrosse team has set the highest marks for conference wins (7) and conference win percentage (70%), while knocking off conference-best Stanford and winning at Colorado along the way, both for the first time in program history.

McCormack has been the lead architect in building Arizona State into a home for competitive women’s lacrosse. From May 4-7, Tempe will be the home for the women’s lacrosse Pac-12 Tournament as well.

“I think it’s really important for the sport,” McCormack said on hosting the tournament. “Obviously, it’s a growing sport, and it has a lot of growth to be done out here in this state. We’re excited to show the local community what it’s all about and hopefully create some buzz around what we’re doing.”

The Sun Devils’ spectacular season has earned them the No. 3 seed in the six-team tournament. On May 4, the team will open its play against sixth-seeded California, a team the Sun Devils swept 2-0 during the regular season.

This has been a season of milestones for the Sun Devils. Never before has an Arizona State lacrosse team been ranked five-straight weeks inside the Top-25. In a sport traditionally dominated by the aristocratic northeastern blue bloods, the Sun Devils scored their first ever win over a Top-15 ranked opponent when they topped the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers, 13-12, on April 3.

The record from the regular season and high seed in the conference tournament is even more impressive when contextualized with the road the Sun Devils travelled to get here. No team played a tougher out-of-conference schedule, and after passing the trial by fire, McCormack’s team battled in conference play with a Pac-12 conference emerging as a formidable group in the national arena.

In perhaps the seminal moment for the newfound stature of the Pac-12 as a proving ground of national contenders, Stanford battled No. 3 Syracuse to the wire in their season opener. Throughout the season, other Pac-12 teams have made similar statements.

“It’s going to be highly competitive this weekend, for sure,” McCormack said. “The league just gets better and better. Still fairly new, but to go up against those types of opponents and come out with some results and play teams tough. It’s awesome to see. I love the league for those reasons.”

The Sun Devils have been presented with big games before. McCormack’s non-conference strategy of “Anywhere, Anyone,” has prepared them for this upcoming test. However, with the metrics and statistics indicating this as the best Sun Devil team in program history, the team has yet to be presented with an opportunity such as this.

A conference tournament win and a berth in the coveted NCAA Tournament are distinguishable on the horizon. McCormack knows it. He has coached and played in big games before, and acknowledged the side effects of nerves and pressure these moments come with. Still, he says the message he will deliver to his team will not waver from the foundation they have constructed together.

Control what you can control.

“Staying mentally locked in,” McCormack said. “Staying focused on the task and what we’re trying to do here. Play Sun Devil Lacrosse. The addition of Taylor Pinzone helps there. She’s a player that has done this stuff. She brings a sense of calm. She is a leader for our group.”

McCormack would know. Pinzone was his player during his time as an assistant coach at Northwestern. The duo were integral pieces in the Wildcats run to the NCAA Final Four in 2019. Pinzone entered the Sun Devils in 2022 as a graduate transfer, and has reached new heights with her game.

Entering the tournament, she has 37 goals and 12 assists. Those 49 points represent a nine-point improvement over the 40 she posted during her entire career at Northwestern.

Also factoring into the success this season has been the continued growth of Carley Adams, who is one of only nine players in the country with at least 44 goals and 25 assists. Freshman goalkeeper Katie Vahle is sixth in the nation in saves made by a freshman (130) and has won Pac-12 Defender of the Week four times this season.

“She’s a kid that comes out and plays everyday - as we try to preach - as a game day,” McCormack said. “She makes her teammates better. She has a tremendous amount of trust from her teammates. If we can give up the shots we want to give up, she’ll have them. And she’ll always have two or three others that are just out of nowhere.”

Arizona State women’s lacrosse became a varsity sport in 2018. McCormack arrived the year after to a team where the ground had been broken, but little foundation had been laid. In just four years, including one cut short in 2020, he has installed the frame, and set the roofing.

There is still much building left to be done to turn Arizona State into a home for a consistent national contender, but the Sun Devils have swiftly become conference contenders under McCormack, and the future is bright for this program.

If the Sun Devils can get past California in the first round, matchups with No. 2 seed USC and a potential matchup with No. 1 seed Stanford will loom large.

That, of course, is getting into hypotheticals. McCormack and his team like to deal with what is certain. And what they know is, they don’t want this ride to end.

“This particular Sun Devil team just wants to be together as long as we can,” McCormack said. “We have spent some much time together and we have really enjoyed every single minute of it. We really love being out there together.”

The First Round against California will begin at 7 p.m., MST, and can be viewed on Pac-12 Network.