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Minutewomen drop season opener to No. 1 Wildcats

WlaxBIt was one bittersweet evening for the Massachusetts women’s lacrosse team. Despite the sunny shores and warm weather of San Diego, the Minutewomen found themselves in a lot of trouble early on, leading to a 18-6 loss to Northwestern on Saturday night.

“Going into this game, I thought we were prepared, and I thought we did fight back, but it was just a little too late,” UMass coach Alexis Venechanos said.

“It wasn’t even Northwestern, it was just us,” Venechanos said. “I think one of the biggest things I would have done differently is establish an identity. Also being able to execute and finish. Reaction and execution was key.”

All left to taste was bitterness for the Maroon and White (0-1) in the opening period, as the No. 1 Wildcats (1-0) completely dominated the early portion of the game by scoring seven goals in the first 16 minutes of play.

“We are disappointed, I think we came out scared in that first 15 minutes,” Venechanos said.

Early on, it was all Northwestern. Two minutes into play, sophomore Shannon Smith scored the first goal of the Wildcat’s 2010 season (also the first of her six during the game). 

Smith’s offensive play did not lighten, as she netted a hatrick in the seven opening goals alongside a vivid, active offense that took on a thin and relaxed defense.

The offensive push in the opening two minutes helped spark the Northwestern scoring side even more. Notably, senior Danielle Spencer notched the first of the five goals she scored in the game.

With Smith’s three goals and a big offensive push, it was all Wildcats as the team looked to down UMass similarly to how they did in the first round of the NCAA tournament last year. Northwestern outshot the Minutewomen 24-18 in the first half alone.

The Minutewomen resistance showed up after being dominated early. Two goals by senior Jackie Lyons and sophomore Nina Sarcona within a 38-second span brought the lead down to five goals.

UMass’ late surge was later erased as the Wildcats notched seven more goals to close out the half. But with 29 seconds remaining before the break, freshman Lauren Terracino hit a rocket into the net to give the Minutewomen something to cheer about.

Coming out of the half motivated, the Minutewomen made progress against Northwestern, scoring goals in a back-to-back affair with the Wildcats.

San Diego native Merritt Cosgrove committed four fouls during the contest but also netted an unassisted goal for UMass in front of her family, who watched along with the 1,315 fans in attendance.

The Maroon and White did not show its inexperience, as sophomores Jesse O’Donnell and Ryan Gorman scored two of the final three goals of the game.

Despite taking a loss, goalkeeper Katie Florence had thirteen saves against Northwestern. She is now just one save shy of the 200 mark in her career.

“[Florence] kept us in the game from the start. She stood in [the goal] tall, kept us in the game,” Venechanos said.

Unfortunately for UMass, the 12 goal deficit was too much to handle. Over the 60 minutes of play, the Wildcats outshot their opponents 37-18.

The biggest issue for the Minutewomen came from their inability to catch a break against Northwestern, as they were dominated in nearly every category of the game. The five-time defending national champions also shattered UMass in draw controls (21-to-5) and groundballs (21-to-11).

“Draw controls killed us,” Venechanos said.  “We usually make our goals form 50-50 balls and draw controls.”

Another issue for UMass was that it constantly found itself in foul trouble. The Minutewomen committed 19 fouls in the opening half alone. With Cosgrove’s four, sophomore Riley Perry’s five and O’Donnell’s six, UMass couldn’t keep the play moving. All of these individual high-foul numbers led to a 34 game total for UMass.

“We’re thinking of practice today, we’re focused on one day at a time,” Venechanos said. “We’re going to work on going hard, just going hard and having accountability of our own actions once we enter our next game.”

The Minutewomen will return to their home field on Feb. 17 looking for redemption as they take on in-state rival Holy Cross.

Herb Scribner can be reached at hscribne@student.umass.edu.

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