The 2013 season could not have come fast enough for the Massachusetts women’s lacrosse team.
With the disappointment of their first round NCAA Tournament loss last year to Maryland in the rear-view mirror, the Minutewomen, who finished last season with a 19-2 record overall and an unblemished 8-0 record in the Atlantic 10 Conference, head into the new season looking for a fresh start.
“Our focus actually this year is to have no expectations,” UMass coach Angela McMahon said, “and to go into each game with a clean slate and empty mind and not looking that far ahead into the future.”
With key players gone from the team after graduating last spring, the team that made it all the way to the NCAA Tournament is no more. The biggest departure was that of goalie Katie Florence, a four-year starter for the Minutewomen.
With her veteran presence no longer there, UMass will have to look towards a young trio of goalies, headed by sophomore Rachel Vallarelli, to lead in net this season. Despite the change, the team has complete confidence that Vallarelli will pick up where Florence left off.
“Katie Florence was definitely a huge part of our team,” junior Katie Ferris said. “But, Rachel, she’s there. She’s good. I have complete faith that she’s going to make the stops that we need to make. Obviously she’s young and still has things to learn, but she’s doing very well.”
With 10 players graduating last season, the Minutewomen will have to rely heavily on their returners. Ferris led the team with 98 points last season, 30 more than the team’s second-highest scorer. Aside from her, UMass brings back a steady balance of scorers from last year’s offensive juggernaut, but will still be forced to look towards the incoming freshman to pick up some of the lost production.
“I expect, especially from freshmen, to help out in our midfield,” McMahon said. “The speed that they bring in as a whole class is exceptional. So I think you’ll see, probably, the most impact in the midfield, but there are freshmen at each position that could really work in and have been doing a good job in the preseason.”
Graduating players were not the only holes the team needed to assess, as assistant coaches Sarah Albrecht and Eileen Finn both left the Minutewomen in the offseason. Albrecht was named head coach of the New Hampshire women’s lacrosse team and selected Finn as a Wildcat assistant shortly thereafter.
Replacing Albrecht and Finn for UMass this season will be 2012 Northwestern graduates Brianne LoManto and Whitney Michele, who spent the last two seasons getting the High Point program up and running.
While the team itself is not setting any expectations, the Minutewomen will certainly have expectations nationally after garnering a lot of attention after for year’s 19-win season. The team enters this year ranked No. 14 in the Inside Lacrosse Preseason poll and No. 13 in the deBeer Media poll.
As for individual accolades, Ferris was named to the preseason All-American team, a year after being named a WomensLax.com All-American last year as a sophomore.
“Personally, I would like us to do better than last year, but I don’t really have anything set for myself,” Ferris said. “I just want to see us do better.”
The Minutewomen will be put to the test right off the bat this season, as they travel out to Los Angeles to face off with Northwestern, the No. 2 ranked team in the country and winner of seven of the last eight national championships.
While the opening game of the season may be the toughest test UMass will face all season, it isn’t a challenge the team is shying away from.
“I would play the best team in the country every game if I could,” Ferris said. “I’m really looking forward to it and there’s no other way to get better than by playing better teams.”
UMass will follow up Friday’s season opener against the Wildcats by taking on Southern California on Sunday at 1 p.m. The Minutewomen will then return home for their first home game of the season on Feb. 16 against Long Island University-Brooklyn at McGuirk Stadium at 1 p.m.
Patrick Strohecker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @MDC_Strohecker.