The combination of Alexis Dal Col and Jen VanderMeulen were too much for the Massachusetts lacrosse team, as the two combined for nine goals in UMass’ 10-8 loss to Harvard Saturday afternoon.
“When you walk on that field, you have to be ready from the start,” UMass coach Alexis Venechanos said. “It’s a mental thing, it’s an emotional thing and it’s a physical thing. I think we have one of those three things, or two of those three things, but this is Division I lacrosse. Every team is going to be a big game, everything’s going to be a fight. This game could have been a lot worse than a two-goal loss for us.”
Right out of the gate at McGuirk Stadium, the Minutewomen (2-3) found no budging from the Crimson defense, despite a goal early on from midfielder Dayna Defliese nearly three minutes into the contest.
“We came out flat from the start; Harvard looked really sharp and they looked like at the time they had been playing for five or six games,” Venechanos said. “They looked really experienced, and they took it to us.”
Harvard (1-0) struck right back with two straight goals to get ahead of the Minutewomen when attackers Dal Col (five total goals) and VanderMeulen (four total goals) knocked in two scores.
“We were playing catch up, but we continued to throw the ball away,” Venechanos said. “Harvard deserves the credit, they’re a great team. They came in a lot more focused and poised, and they played great. I thought we were flat, and we were playing catch up the whole game. We needed to find some ownership of this team.”
Five minutes went by before the UMass offense could find a way to break its opponent’s stiff defense trap. A goal by attacker Nina Sarcona came, tying the game between the two sides.
Once more, the Crimson held off a Minutewomen run after VanderMeulen scored her second goal of the game. VanderMeulen put UMass down again with an assist to Danielle Tetreault, who scored some insurance for Harvard, giving it a 4-2 lead.
The Minutewomen tried again to bring the game back in their favor and did just so with a two-goal run on the Crimson. Goals by midfielder Haley Smith and attacker Jesse O’Donnell tied the game back up with roughly eight minutes left to go in the half.
Similar to earlier in the game, Harvard halted UMass from taking the lead, after a two-goal run by the dynamic offense duo of Dal Col and VanderMeulen to close out the half.
“I was glad to be down by two goals at halftime,” Venechanos said.
The opening of the second half showed the Minutewomen upping their defensive pressure and maintaining their umbrella offense for the first five minutes of the game.
The Crimson eventually found its way passed the Maroon and White in route to Dal Col’s third goal of the game to give Harvard a 7-4 lead. UMass came right back, with a score by midfielder Merritt Cosgrove, cutting the lead to a pair of goals.
The Minutewomen had two free-position shot opportunities within the first 10 minutes of the half. Cosgrove earned one after surging down the field and being tripped up near the net. While her attempt was saved by Crimson goalkeeper Katherine Matrino, attacker Ryan Gorman’s free-position opportunity did produce a score, resulting in a one-goal deficit to for UMass.
After back-and-forth momentum shifts between the two sides, the Minutewomen found a way to control the ball behind the Crimson net. After setting up the patient umbrella offense, the perseverance of the Minutewomen paid off as Cosgrove scored her second goal of the contest, and UMass’ third straight goal to knot the game up.
Dal Col could not be silenced in her collegiate debut, netting another goal at the 13 minute, 49 second mark for Harvard. The goal came off a cluttered defensive transition of the Minutewomen, resulting in the return of the one goal deficit.
Early in the second half, Smith was taken out of the game for an injured ankle. Smith came back in a big way nearly two-thirds into the second half, scoring a goal to level the score at eight goals apiece.
Just when UMass caught a break with Smith’s goal, the Crimson reclaimed the lead after VanderMeulen notched her fourth goal of the match.
In the final five minutes of the game, Harvard held onto the ball and watered the clock down for the better part of four minutes. After cluttered play and two free-position shots, which included two saves by goalkeeper Katie Florence, the Minutewomen retrieved the ball back with 2:35 left to play. Venechanos called a timeout to prepare her team for the final moments of the game.
“I said let’s bring the ball up safely,” Venechanos said. “Same situation happened [on Wednesday], take care of [the ball] safely. The [players] was wide opened, we through the ball away, and that was the theme of the game. It kind of symbolizes what happens; not making passes when we need to and the [players] were wide opened and we didn’t connect.”
The timeout lead to a turnover by the Minutewomen, giving the Crimson the ball back and inevitably the game. Off a its own time out, Harvard moved the ball around and led to Dal Col scoring her final goal of the game and sealing the 10-8 victory for the Crimson.
“We had an opportunity to redeem ourselves from last game, and we folded. With their ball possession they proved to be the better team,” Venechanos said.
UMass will have another shot at redemption on Wednesday, when it takes on New Hampshire at McGuirk Alumni Stadium.
Herb Scribner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.