Success in non-conference play is new to the Massachusetts women’s lacrosse team and may be the result of a fresh style of offense implemented by first-year coach Angela McMahon.
Yesterday’s 13-12 win against No. 18 Boston University could be a sign that the Minutewomen (3-0) are stepping out from the middle-of-the-pack of the national college rankings with the help of their midfielders.
With opposing defenses keyed on stopping reigning A-10 Player of the Year Jackie Lyons, scoring opportunities are opening up for other players, especially in the midfield.
“It just so happened that the other day, running through her, we got some really nice goals and some nice assists,” McMahon said in regards to 17-9 win over Vermont on Saturday.
“She obviously draws a lot of attention,” McMahon continued. “I think if she can field well, and distribute the ball to her teammates, it’s going to put us in a great position to score because of all the attention she draws.”
Impact is nothing new for Lyons, the reigning A-10 Player of the Year, and it hasn’t deterred her from scoring goals. The leading scorer from last season (49 goals, 20 assists) currently leads the Minutewomen with 12 points and is second in goal-scoring with seven goals behind fellow senior Haley Smith.
As Lyons claims her post in the attacking zone behind the goal frame, she is displaying a knack for finding her teammates cutting to the arc. Her five assists in three games are a welcomed sight for McMahon and her teammates.
“Jackie’s one of seven people on offense for us and I think she’s in a situation, playing behind [the net], where the ball runs through her,” McMahon said on Tuesday. “Between Haley Smith stepping up in terms of scoring goals … [and] Danielle Pelletier, I really think that everyone is contributing, taking a lot of pressure off of Jackie.”
In addition to Lyons’ presence on the field, McMahon has implemented a style of offense that allows the midfielders to thrive. As in men’s lacrosse, she prefers to play a larger rotation of middies, substituting her players in lines, similar to ice hockey.
McMahon recruited six midfielders during the offseason, giving her team the depth it needs to stay energized in each of the 30-minute halves come game time.
“We want to make sure we keep our middies fresh which allows us to play a lot of people,” McMahon said. “In a situation like yesterday, that really helped us out a lot because BU is a pretty fast team.”
These changes in the Maroon and White attack are leading to the improved production for all of the returning Minutewomen middies, scoring more frequently and with a higher accuracy.
The four returning midfielders who scored last season have combined to score 16 of 42 UMass goals at a rate of 76 percent (16-for-21), up from 41 percent a year ago (48-for-116).
Danielle Pelletier, third in team scoring last season (24 goals, 12 assists), has connected on 6-of-8 shots this season, while newcomer Tanner Guarino is 2-for-3.
McMahon’s system attempts to utilize her players’ skill sets, using what can be characterized as a hybrid type of offense to compliment the versatility of her offensive players. Smith, for instance, played on attack in her first two seasons as a Minutewomen and moved to the midfield in 2010. As a senior, she starts on the UMass bench, and enters the attacking zone on the fly, allowing her to maintain an offensive-minded approach.
Smith registered 13 points last season, including 12 goals (.375). Already this season, she has nine goals in 10 tries, averaging a hat trick each game.
“I think Haley coming out there and just the energy and fire she brings coming on the field is definitely contagious for everyone else,” McMahon said.
Whether it is the increased experience of the Minutewomen or McMahon’s fresh perspective, UMass appears ready to continue benefiting from the play of its midfielders.
“A lot of the teams we play are athletic and fast, so it’s giving us some rest, which helps us throughout the game,” McMahon said.
Dan Gigliotti can be reached at email@example.com.