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Defense key to victory

Since beginning conference play, the Massachusetts women’s lacrosse team has followed the theory that the best offense is a good defense.

Prior to opening their Atlantic 10 schedule, the Minutewomen (6-6, 3-3 A-10) struggled on offense, failing to reach double-digits in goals in six consecutive games. However, in its last three contests against conference foes, the UMass defense has held its opponents to under 10 scores.

It was on display last weekend when it limited attack opportunities for Temple in a 16-7 win.

UMass coach Alexis Venechanos was pleased to see her team continue the strong play on its side of the field.

“It was great to see some our defenders chipping in, scoring some goals, and that’s important,” Venechanos said. “We’ve been talking about playing team defense the last few weeks so it was great to see that. Katie Florence back there was holding strong and made some key saves.”

While being ranked in the middle of the pack for offense in the A-10 with 10.5 goals per game, the Minutewomen are at the top of the conference on defense. UMass trails only La Salle in the A-10 in goals against average (9.67), making it the only other team allowing under double digits.

“We put in a new defense at the beginning of the season so we knew it would take some time to get used to it,” Venechanos said. “Working on the slide patterns, I think we’ve got them down pat, and now we’re just going out there and taking more chances. We’re playing together as a unit, we’ve been doing some matchups within that, and we’ve been able to adjust game to game.”

On the attack, Venechanos wants to see more passing and assisted goals from the Minutewomen. This season, UMass is tied with Saint Joseph’s for sixth in the conference in assists per game with three. The Hawks (2-10, 0-3 A-10), however, average three fewer goals per game than the Minutewomen.

En route to its 16-goal outburst against the Owls, UMass showed the passing that Venechanos has been looking for. The Minutewomen tied a season-high with eight assists, as seven different players scored goals. Jesse O’Donnell and Nina Sarcona each added three assists, while O’Donnell recorded six points on the day with a hat trick. The first occasion that UMass had as many assists was in an 18-8 victory over Connecticut in the third contest of the season.

“It was another complete team effort, and I was excited to see more assisted goals, and that’s going to be important in the upcoming games,” Venechanos said.

Rather than taking on defenders 1-on-1, the Minutewomen have made it a priority to distribute the ball. The game plan will be no different this weekend when UMass takes on Duquesne and St. Bonaventure.

“Were going to have a fast-paced passing attack and we’ll look more for openings that are not so much on the drive,” senior midfielder Merritt Cosgrove said. “We want more of a passing attack to get more assists.”

Jay Asser can be reached at jasser@student.umass.edu.

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